I have used "art therapy" in a number of group sessions with battered individuals. Some have been under the guidelines of the "Clothesline Project" sponsored by the National Organization of Women. Victims were provided T-shirts of different colors, each symbolizing a specific type of abuse they had endured (e.g., physical, sexual, etc.). The T-shirts - decorated as they chose - were then displayed with others at Cal State University, Northridge. (I believe they went on to Washington, DC but I am not sure). The idea is similar to the AIDS quilt.
Discussion was spontaneous during the "creative" portion and more structured during the sharing (voluntary) portion. Instructions were given "not to interpret" but rather to seek information and understanding though questions. As you mentioned, this opened the door for discussion about cultural differences, (e.g., the difference in the symbolism of colors) and furthered the understanding of "communication" through our narrow cultural filters. This understanding can then be transferred to interpersonal communication between genders.
Other sessions involved various exercises taken from art therapy books. One group drew pictures of "the beginning, the now, the future, and the end". This was particularly fruitful in revealing earlier childhood abuse that, while common, is often "upstaged" by current violence or "self-edited" as unimportant or irrelevant to the current topic of "intimate violence".
These sessions led to a greater intimacy in the group, a better understanding of the statistics regarding victims and childhood abuse, and the interrelationship between the two. In addition, "the future" imbued hope and goals, while "the end" added an element of spirituality. I find that "art therapy" is particularly helpful in bringing out the less "verbal" group members.
Carol M. Shauger, MSW
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