AN ART THERAPY GROUP FOR CHILDREN TRAUMATIZED BY PARENTAL VIOLENCE AND SEPARATION
This article describes the treatment of five traumatized children (aged 4–8 years) using adjunctive group art therapy, and reviews the theoretical basis for such a treatment strategy. All the children had been exposed to cumulative traumatic experiences involving threats to caregivers in the context of conflictual, violent and unresolved parental separation. All presented with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, developmental problems related to trauma, had difficulties with any discussion of traumatic events or family concerns, and reacted with hyperarousal and/or an ‘emotional shutdown’ response. Previous treatments included a combination of social, family, psychological and biological interventions including: outpatient family therapy, medication, admission to a therapeutic day programme, inpatient family work and home visits by nurses, with partial response. The group, a structured, low anxiety, interactive setting, was a therapeutic intervention developed by a child psychiatrist and an art therapist to facilitate further therapeutic change. The therapeutic use of artworks facilitated exposure to traumatic cues in a less direct manner, allowed for desensitization of anxiety and unpleasant body sensations, helped the children recount the story of the parental separation and to label and articulate affective states using art and narrative. Positive family changes and coping skills the children were using to manage ongoing stresses were made overt. Positive expectations of the future were promoted. Key therapeutic and theoretical aspects of the group intervention are described.