Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series of stories that will focus on The Village Network and its programs offered in Knox County, including the Children’s Resource Center and the Knox Foster Care Network. Published every Thursday, this series is designed to shed light on the problems facing troubled youth and how the resources available through TVN truly change their lives and the world in which we live.
MOUNT VERNON — A combination of therapies is the key to success in assisting the troubled youth at the Children’s Resource Center to work through their issues with anger, aggression, safety and self-worth, among others. The inclusion of art therapy in this treatment package provides an amazing outlet for both healing and creativity.
“Art is definitely multifaceted. It is a safe way to express feelings,” said Liz Hartz, art therapist at CRC. “We use art as a way to channel negative feelings and amplify the positive emotion.”
Most children when they enter CRC are rarely versed in even the simplest of art forms let alone have knowledge of well-known artists.
“I try to introduce a lot of different things because these kids don’t have a lot of exposure to art. By giving them new things and more options, they can get more and more invested,” she said.
Regardless of someone’s ability, or inability, to draw or paint, the benefits to the program are profound.
“Art therapy is for everyone. It’s an easy way to express yourself with no expectation to draw or paint realistically,” she said.
Art projects are designed as a teaching tool to help the child learn planning skills, adaptability and even self-control while working through their emotion. Through this process, children learn to cope with frustrations as well as visualize, and even vocalize, some of the traumatic events that have changed their lives.
“We see this as constructive self-expression,” Hartz said. “It is a safe outlet to express painful things that are hard to talk about.”
For these children, overcoming the obstacles of their past is the key to unlocking a normal, or close to normal, future. Learning to open up and talk about the physical, psychological or sexual abuse, and neglect they experienced is one of the steps to successful treatment of their mental anguish.
Hartz said children often retreat to a place where they feel safe, even in their art. Asking them to move out of their comfort zone, even during creative tasks, can be a challenge.
“They find a comfort level in self-expression but kids need to expand their comfort level,” she said.
By stepping outside their self-imposed boundaries, children learn to take control of their art and of themselves.
“I have kids that question their ability,” Hartz said. “It’s too scary for them — they are afraid they will look bad and they will frustrate themselves.”
Allowing the child to learn the value of control is a major driving force in the art therapy program. For many, controlling the color selection or pattern in a project is an overwhelming success on its own.
“We give choices so they have options. To be an artist means they have control to make their own decisions. Kids have been in situations where they feel out of control. This can be their way to have control,” Hartz said.
Although each child takes away something different from the project, Hartz said there is a natural progression in watching each child learn from the experience. Many show success by overcoming frustration on their own, asking for help and volunteering to help their peers.
Several children from CRC placed art projects in a silent auction during The Village Network’s Celebration Day. Jewelry pieces, along with butterfly paintings, were submitted with the artist receiving 50 percent of the auction sell price.
“Butterflies are a symbol of transformation,” Hartz said. “Those pieces were filled with patterns with a simple message about life and healthy behaviors. Repeating feelings and behaviors that are positive are necessary to get to that transformation — just like in their own lives.”
Hartz found the same philosophy holds true as the children expressed an interest in making jewelry. By introducing the children to the medium of jewelry making, Hartz found another avenue to teach the value of repetitive actions toward a greater goal.
“It’s about learning the technique,” she said. “They may flounder in the beginning but you have to repeat the process to master it. You do it step by step. Just like problem solving, you learn to fine-tune.”