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Using Art to Heal Domestic Violence

Compiled by Roger Larson, Candace Wheeler

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the USA.

Domestic violence (DV) is a serious issue that affects many people in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) one in seven women and one in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

The consequences of DV can be severe and long lasting. Victims of DV often experience moderate to severe mental and physical health concerns. DV also has a significant economic impact on society, with the cost of intimate partner violence exceeding $8.3 billion per year.

Many clients are not aware that the abuse they have endured can be called DV, sexual abuse, human trafficking, etc. They just know that they are hurting and need others to acknowledge what happened to them so they can heal. Often, traditional psychotherapy is not enough.

They need different ways to express their feelings and emotions.

At R1:99, we use expressive therapies to foster creative expression that helps individuals cope with emotional and psychological distress. These therapies have been found to be effective not only for survivors of DV, but also for those who are healing from other types of violence such as gun/community violence, sexual abuse, sex trafficking. Artistic expression can scientifically calm the storm in the mind to better reflect and process a painful situation and to encourage the brain to access a “flow state” better known as “getting in the zone.” According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, art therapy can help survivors of DV improve cognitive and sensory motor functions, foster self-esteem, and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.

Art therapy provides a safe way for survivors to connect with their feelings and emotions and provides an outlet to creative expression and play - which often is lost as we become adults. Art reconnects us with our identity. When we are creative, we express things that sometimes we don't have the words to say.

Art therapy can include art, music, dance, movement, drama, poetry, play or sand therapy. It is important to note that art therapy is not about creating a masterpiece but rather on the experience of creating art.

In conclusion, art therapy can be a fantastic tool for survivors of DV. Regardless of whether someone considers themselves creative or artistic, it can help them process their emotions and experiences in a safe and supportive environment.

It is important to raise awareness about DV and provide support for victims. If you or someone you know is experiencing DV, there are resources available to help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides confidential support and information 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Our thanks to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-7233), Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for their assistance with this blog post.

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