Willemijn was a volunteer @ Solid Peru for 6 months
Willemijn Branderhorst is a young vibrant and highly creative Dutch therapist, that joined the team of Diamanta of Solid Peru for 6 months.
Her volunteering project was a collaboration between The Red Pencil and Solid in Peru. The Red Pencil is a Singapore based organization which brings the power of arts therapy around the world to children and families who have been through traumatic life circumstances, for which they have no words. Very often they work in conflict area or with asylum seekers. Their programs help people heal and grow through the arts, by offering an alternative way of expression towards balance, empowerment and resilience.
Willemijn tells us something more about her experiences with Solid in Ayacucho, Peru working with vulnerable youngsters.
Making contact as an art therapist
“During the first sessions I worked together a lot, we all made art together and this way we made contact and got to know each other. We worked for example together on a large surface. With crayons we scratched on music, together we experimented with scratching hard or soft, long lines, short lines. During this collaboration I could often observe a lot. Many teenage mothers have experiences that can be labeled as harmful / traumatic in clinical context. However, they wouldn´t use the term "trauma" their selves. From their culture it is not so much viewed from that (shocking) angle, but more like something that is / is happening within their culture. The girls therefore do not understand/take it directly as harmful. However, as an art therapist, I could see the damage in their behavior within arts and observe high levels of psychological stress and anxiety in all women. This manifested itself in different ways. Through the art therapy activities, this stress can be reduced. With colleagues we looked at which girls could use extra help, they have received individual art therapy sessions in addition to group sessions.
From the vision of the organization, the goal was to increase the self-confidence and autonomy (self-determination) of the women, in order to be able to treat psychological problems such as traumas. In the visual therapy this was translated into increasing creative self-confidence;
· Try out new (positive) experiences / actions;
· Take space; scratch and draw on a large sheet.
· Express feelings and thoughts; discuss with the group, write down, expression through art
· Making choices; choose from different materials. Choose from different pictures. Choose from different activities
· Indicate preferences/ needs /wishes; (in the present moment) indicate that you want to do certain exercises, indicate that you want to work with a certain material, indicate you yourself want to do a certain thing.
· Possibly: discuss dreams/wishes in group.
Flexibility proved to be one of the most important keys during this mission. I have always attuned my attitude and art therapy activities to the current situation, as a way to guarantee a safe feeling within the therapeutic space. As a therapist you have to be sharp, especially because not all girls feel their own limits equally well. Sometimes that meant I had to adjust my attitude or the therapeutic activity. For example, I had a teenage mother in individual therapy, in which during the debriefing a lot came up, she told me a lot about her past and her family. I noticed that she was sad but also angry, I named this. She herself suppresses this, talks a lot and fiercely, but then indicates that it is "passed and accepted". What emotionally is not yet the case. I feel a lot of anger / distrust / sadness with her, and I also notice how she talks about others (negative). … She wanted to scratch with crayons. …For a few minutes she scratched very hard, she fully scratched the sheet almost on her own. Then she indicated that she was ready. "What are we going to do with this sheet?" I asked. "You want to save it or you want to throw it away maybe?". "Throw it away!" She answered immediately. I put a trash can at her. She has torn off the sheet of tape attached to the table, torn into pieces and thrown in the trash. I saw her breathe deeply several times, and she did the tearing and throwing away with attention. She was quiet (normally she talks a lot) and then said "so" ("ya"). We then put the trash can out of sight. I noticed that it was a very important experience for her (feeling, processing, taking distance, without the judgment of therapist and herself).
Train the trainer
Besides group workshops with the children and teenagers, I gave the caregivers of Solid, as well as teachers from different high schools practical instructions on how to apply art therapy activities within their social work, or within their classes. Several came to me afterwards and told me how they managed applying art therapy within their work setting or for their selves in their free time. We raised awareness of how important expressive activities are for us people, and that there exists such a wonderful and well developed ¨science¨ as Art Therapy. That expression is therapeutic for us, and not childish at all (that's the average belief here, that drawing or painting does not serve anything).
This six month mission has been an incredible, intensive and unforgettable experience for me. Also I learned a lot from the girls and people in Ayacucho. I never wanted to miss the opportunity. The girls, the teenage moms, the Solid staff: they are in my heart forever. “