The healing power of art

If you were asked to communicate what ‘hope and healing’ meant to you, what would you say?

What would you draw? What piece of art would you create?

Along a wall in an art therapy room of Morwell’s Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault hangs a ‘tree of life’ recently created by sexual assault survivors.

The base represents family or support services that have gathered around the survivors during their quest to recovery.

Surrounding the tree are stepping stones that depict personal journeys of healing.

A ladder reminds the survivors to keep moving forward while words encourage them to ‘reach-out’, ‘aim high’ and ‘believe’.

“For them to do all of those things and recover, they need their community to understand the nature of what’s happened to them and not blame them for it,” GCASA senior clinician Claire Stanley said.

Each Tuesday afternoon, sexual assault survivors gather for two hours of collaborative or individual art projects at the GCASA office in Morwell.

The program offers the potential for recovery in a safe, group environment where people are encouraged to express their emotions or experiences through art.

The ‘tree of life’ was created during these clinical art therapy sessions and last month won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at Luke’s Arts Festival’s ‘Views from the Edge’ exhibition.

“You can imagine for our group participants, where this kind of thing has always been buried, it’s a very private experience,” Mrs Stanley said.

“There must be something working really well in our community that the group participants found the courage to be open and articulate in art about what it feels like to recover from this.

“And then the community has responded by giving them the People’s Choice Award.

“I think that’s quite wonderful – it says something’s working differently.”

Mrs Stanley said the award represented a sense of validation for participants who connected and communicated with their community.

She reinforced communities needed to “place judgement where it belongs” and understand consent should be mutual and “asked for every time”.

She said the way in which communities responded to stories of sexual assault very much impacted on the recovery of the survivors.

To be able to participate in GCASA’s art therapy group, individuals must be accepted into GCASA’s programs and have a counsellor advocate.

For more information phone GCASA on 5134 3922 or visit the Morwell office at 31-41 Buckley Street.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, phone 1800RESPECT, a 24-hour national hotline, or triple zero (000) in an emergency.

The Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault can be phoned on 5134 3922 during business hours or 1800 806 292 after hours.

For information about sex and the law, visit