Georgina Gill, a Masters Art Therapy student from the University of Chester, shares how art can prove beneficial to the recovery of victims of abuse. This follows her recent exhibition showcasing the art of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses visual and tactile arts to support self-expression and communication. This can include dance, music, painting and many other artistic mediums.
The practise can provide benefits for individuals suffering from both mental and physical disabilities. For those who are survivors of domestic violence or abuse, art therapy can also provide a path to healing.
Through this exhibition, victims were able to share their experiences, journey in recovery and express their emotions through art.
Art supporting recovery
Art therapy is used to support those suffering from physical or mental disabilities. The practise aims to provide an outlet for those struggling with often complex emotions.
In recent years, art therapy has become more popular, with over 2,000 art therapists practicing in the UK. Those who take part in art therapy courses have noted the benefits.
Artlift is a charity which aims to provide creative support for those suffering with mental and physical challenges. They report that 82% of those taking part in art programmes enjoy greater life experience. Furthermore, they report that art can help save money in the health and social care systems, claiming that the demand for GP appointments dropped by 27% after six months of working with an artist.
In the UK, it is estimated that 2.4 million adults experienced domestic violence in 2022. Art therapy could support recovery for those who have lived through such events. Research suggests that art therapy is effective in treating victims of abuse by providing a safe way to express emotions and approach traumatic memories through the use of symbols.
“It allows them to explore it in a way that means they don’t actually have to verbalise it. So whether or not they disclose what actually happened to them, they can still get it out in their own way.” – Georgina Gill
It has also been suggested that art therapy can help victims of domestic violence navigate the long-term effects of abuse. Domestic violence is likely to leave an individual feeling isolated, causing long lasting emotional insecurity. Art therapy can help create a sense of safety and belonging, as well as eliminating beliefs of self-blame or hopelessness which are often reinforced by an abuser.
Largely what art therapy can provide is a supportive, therapeutic environment, which is considered a necessity for those who have experience abusive relationships.
The exhibition took place between the 13 and 15 of June at St Mary’s Creative Space in Chester and aimed to provide insight into the lives of victims of abuse.
Georgina hosted this exhibition after being awarded funding from the universities ACH1IEVE scheme, which provides students with the opportunity to expand their skills and experiences. She received artwork from her clients, as well as local charities such as Survive: Tomorrows Women, Women’s Housing Aid Group and the Spider Project to bring survivors together in a safe space and tell their stories.
She said: “It was about bringing survivors together so they could meet each other and share their stories together and not feel that sense of being alone.”
The exhibition also aims to promote awareness about the issue.
A variety of art was showcased at the event including painting, crochet and poetry. These works were created by survivors to share their experiences and journey in recovery. One woman created a collection of dolls, depicting individuals of different ethnicities or with disabilities, to represent how anyone can be a victim of abuse.
Key themes that were explored in the exhibition were ideas of safety, reflection and art as a mindful practise. Georgina said: “I’ve had my own clients submit work, it was great to see them share their stories and to just be involved in it really.”
In addition to her studies at university, Georgia also volunteers in the community. She hopes that visitors at the exhibition were also able to learn more about the different charities involved and the volunteering opportunities available. If you have been affected by anything in this article, please see this resource from the NHS.