The study, carried out at the School of Creative Arts Therapies at the University of Haifa, in Israel, was led by Rachel Lev-Wiesel, head of the Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies.
“The use of art seems to help with verbalizing trauma,” said Lev-Wiesel. “It is usually difficult to express the trauma through speech, yet the body remembers it.”
In the study, 60 children, aged nine to 14, with fathers who were drug addicts were randomly divided into two groups. Those in one group were asked to draw their life, including a depiction of the influence of their fathers, and then to explain their lives to a social worker in an interview. The other children were taken directly to the interview.
The results showed that the children who drew began freely verbalizing about their lives even while in the midst of drawing. The descriptions they gave to the interviewers included more feelings, were longer, and expressed optimism for the future. But the children in the second group were less talkative. Their descriptions were shorter, with little feeling, and less coherent.
“Emotional-verbal ability is crucial for growth and for social skills, so enabling a child to increase ability of expression and sharing by means of drawing pictures is beneficial in contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of therapy,” Lev-Wiesel concluded.
It’s a fact that people who have been traumatized often have difficulty describing their feelings and experiences verbally. Therapy through art helps such people to reveal these feelings, first through visual symbols, and then through talking about them. At the University of Haifa’s Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies, there are three courses of study: plastic art therapy, movement therapy and drama therapy.
“The importance of therapy through the arts has increased over the past years, and as with every other discipline of therapy, much weight ought to be placed on basing therapist training on research,” said Lev-Wiesel.
Art therapy is a relatively young field, she said, so empirical studies in the area are few. One of the new school’s goals is to increase the number of researchers in the field.