“Pictures speak a thousand words and art is a universal language.” As an art therapist, Natalie Foster believes art provides survivors with an outlet that words may not. It is a form of expression that enables us to use our imagination to express how we are feeling. Not only does this form of healing tap into our sensory memories, but it also allows survivors to process trauma visually without having to state how they are feeling explicitly. Survivors are able to develop a coping mechanism that they are familiar and comfortable with.
Sexual assault can have various mental, physical and psychological impacts on an individual. By engaging with an art-based approach, survivors have the ability to boost their confidence and regain their self-esteem. It also focuses on empowering survivors and allows them to process feelings in a softer way.
People who have experienced traumatic situations are always asked to recall their stories for numerous justice system participants. Particularly, when they decide to report and take legal action in courts. Whether it be during the initial reporting stage or at trial, they are continuously going through the incident and relaying these painful memories. Not only does this take the survivor back to the incident, but also forces them to use words to explain a situation they are still processing. Undoubtedly, survivors need a coping mechanism to assist them through this time. Whether it’s music, dance, visual arts or drawing, any art medium allows an individual to find a sense of escape.
Using this approach in legal fields is also something I find very beneficial. Encouraging art therapists to speak with survivors and assist them during the trial and afterwards is an effective method of ensuring comfort and safety. Trauma memories can be very fragmented. As a result, there is natural tendency for many people to want to map out their feelings and make sense of the situations. By drawing or painting their memories and experiences, survivors have the ability to feel at ease with their memories. While your brain may shut down, your ability to communicate through images does not. It also has the effect of decreasing depressive symptoms and allowing anger to be redirected in other, healthier ways.
As someone who has recently taken up painting amidst the pandemic, I can say with confidence it allows me to decompress during stressful situations and be in touch with my creative side. Painting has allowed me to make portraits and images that reflect how I am feeling in the moment. Although I may be unable to express it through words, I feel at ease using the various brushes and colours to create an image. School can be very draining and mentally exhausting at times. For me, using art as a way to take care of my mental health has been reformative and effective. Whether it be after a tiring day or dealing with stress, I go to painting to allow me to feel a little more comfortable and use it as a medium to express my grief.
Written by: Shreeya Devnani