Children’s voices & the power of an image: exploring ways in which children let us know of difficult life experiences

Children's Voices and the Power of an ImageTwo staff from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Gatehouse Centre For The Assessment & Treatment Of Child Abuse and Trauma, Mary Raftopolos (Psychologist) and Olivia Dwyer (Art Therapist & Child Psychotherapist)  focused on how children communicate their inner-world through art therapy.

Art therapy is generally divided into two concepts:

  • art as therapy, as a cathartic process ( for the purification and/or purging of emotions); and,
  • art in therapy, as art made in the context of psychotherapy.

Regardless, emphasis is placed on the process, not so much the final product.

Images and artwork produced by children who have suffered family abuse and breakdown were displayed to the audience, and we were challenged to consider how we experience and interpret these images.

These images included paintings, drawings and Sandplay Therapy that children, who typically are unable to verbally express, use to convey their inner world.

Sandplay Therapy involves the child making a picture in a tray of sand, and without any further direction, allowing the therapist to observe the process in which the child forms the art piece. Miniatures are chosen as they create an image/world in the sand.

Many of the themes conveyed in the featured pieces of art included:

  • Self regulation (fences, police, natural boundaries),
  • Poor relationships,
  • Fear,
  • Chaos,
  • Growth,
  • Containment,
  • Journey,
  • New beginnings,
  • Hiding treasure/finding treasure,
  • Gathering of energy,
  • Or, celebrations/rituals.

Mary and Olivia concluded the workshop with some of the positive results from art therapy over time, including the process being used as a tool of catharsis, in addition to allowing children to convey thoughts and feelings they would otherwise not be able to verbally.

Art Therapy & Sandplay have indeed proved wonderful, non-intrusive ways of working with children who have experienced trauma and/or neglect.

Blog by: SYN Media blogger

Importance of relationships for the developing child – Dr Bruce Perry

Bruce Perry Keynote Day 1” I think its always important to be reminded of how important it is to create safe, developmental experiences for children,” Dr Perry.

Dr Bruce Perry was referring to the Good Childhood Conference, reiterating how essential it is for society to understand that at every point in time, we are in “the process of inventing the future”.

The presentation, recorded in his Chicago hotel room, resonated with the themes of the conference, focusing on brain development at an early age and building healthy communities.

Sociocultural evolution has, over time, lead to the changes in the way we construct our society: our language, religions, childrearing, family structures, art, science and technology.

Dr Bruce Perry

The focus of Dr. Perry‘s presentation lay with the relationships and interactions children are offered at a young age and the profound influence intimate moments such as talking, touching and holding eye contact can have.

Human beings have also absorbed thousands of learnings from previous generations. But this is not always a good thing.

“In the process of inventing the future, we have invented some things that are really wonderful…and we have invented some practices that actually are quite disrespectful of some of our genetic gifts,” Dr Perry said.

Our greatest biological gifts are the power of relationships and the brain’s malleability.

Dr Perry referred to the case where a young girl was, essentially, raised by a pack of dogs and, with no human interaction in the early stages of her life, she essentially acted like a dog. Dr Perry co-authored a book on another similar case, emphasising the malleability of human brains to learn from and adapt to their surroundings.

He then went on to explain how relationships in modern society have taken a turn for the worse because we are now based within huge networks of people unlike the small clans of hunter-and-gatherer times. Children are no longer raised surrounded by extended family and small tribes of people but spend countless hours surrounded by other humans who they don’t know and don’t interact with. Furthermore, technology is a distraction and is reducing the amount of intimate interactions children share with others.

“You might have 100 friends on Facebook but you might not have one single person to have dinner with,” he said.

In what he termed “modern tribalism”, Dr Perry said the ways in which society compartmentalises itself has resulted in material wealth yet “poverty of social relationships”.

“A healthy human being is a related human being.”

Humans are wired to feel stressed and threatened by other humans. After all, we are our own main predator. This stress can be managed throughout life if productive interactions and and healthy relationships are forged during childhood.

But, according to Dr Perry, the way our culture is currently organised induces a state of social and cultural neglect in our children.

Any programs that decrease physical, social and emotional isolation will be effective in making a difference. Currently, the percentage of children in “high-risk” categories is growing and the apparent “poverty of relationships” is a leading reason.

CEO Sandie de Wolf at The Good Childhood Conference

Dr Perry said programs and initiatives such as the Good Childhood Conference are important in encouraging investment into children and developmentally-appropriate ways to raise children.

Berry St CEO, Sandie de Wolf AM, agreed saying: “Relationships are at the core of everything we do”.