The International Child Art Foundation is a non-profit organization that focuses on the creativity of children, nationally and internationally. Also, it is the world’s largest children’s art organization. I have volunteered for this organization for 6 years, writing articles for the organization. I find it to be a worth while cause . The Healing Art’s Program was established in response to the Asian Tsunami of December 2004. The ICAF used the knowledge gained from the treatment of child survivors of the 911 tragedy to help the Tsunami survivors. During the traumatic disasters the amount of people traumatized can outnumber fatalities. The ICAF website www.icaf.org provides examples that illustrate this point. For example, the 9/11 attacks killed fewer than 3,000 people but affected more than 410,000. The 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia killed 300,000 and affected 15 million. The Sichuan earthquake in China killed 69,000 but affected ten million.”
The ICAF focuses on children because they are more vulnerable than adults. The emotional scars stay active for a longer period of time. Children are more resilient and they are the first to recover if their innate creativity and natural coping mechanism can be fully employed. The ICAF utilizes art therapy in their Healing Arts Program. But what is Art Therapy? The answer is that Art therapy is used as a tool in Mental Health treatment. The American Art Therapy Association describes Art Therapy as “a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical and mental and emotional well being of individuals of all ages.”
How does Art Therapy Work? According to Cathy Malchiodi, in, The Art Therapy Source Book, ” And while some traditional art classes may ask you to paint and draw from your imagination, in art therapy your inner world of images feelings, thoughts and ideas are always of primary importance to the experience. “
The ICAF Healing Art’s Program is based on Cathy Malchiodi’s procedures in art therapy. The emphasis on creative expression is paramount in the recovery process for traumatized child. The utilization of art making, painting and modeling is used to express their pain, first visually and then verbally.
According to the ICAF website, “Children who experience catastrophic disasters and events show a wide range of trauma reactions. Children who directly experience a disaster are more mentally impacted than those who had second hand exposure.
With the help of caregivers, such reactions that surface for example, worries and bad memories, will fade after time.
Long-term reactions of trauma victims lead to PSTD because of fear, depression and anger. Also physical complaints or symptoms with no medical basis that occur immediately or after weeks or months can be treated by Art therapy. Current literature suggests that techniques involving the use of images are the most effective in decreasing post traumatic stress. The drawing of pictures serves as a channel for children to express their feeling, perceptions and thoughts as well as memories. The pictures are a tool that words cannot express.
Those children who have experience trauma previously or have a mental disorder may be more vulnerable than others to problems following traumatic events.
Also a child who witnessed or directly experienced a traumatic event, can be more affected than other children. But when a child’s caregiver has a hard time coping with a disaster, the child will be at risk for mental challenges. In order to avoid long-term emotional problems, children need support from others to avoid long term problems.
When a child has been exposed to death, a child is at risk for childhood grief. Positive images of person who died are hard for the child to imagine. Also children may avoid reminders about the event in order to eliminate distressing feelings. In certain circumstances these children have faced a situation in which their own life was in danger. This may result in a child experiencing feelings of guilt which are related to their own survival. In the case of an earthquake, children may experience helplessness and fear and sadness, grief, over the people that died. They may also grieve over the changes that have occurred following the earthquake.
Also according to the ICAF website, “Research shows that earthquakes increase the rate of mental health problems in the communities they strike. A series of studies conducted 1-4 years after August 1999 earthquake in Turkey showed that about 40 percent of the survivors suffered PSTD and 20 percent suffered depression.”
The ICAF had been in existence for 17 years encouraging children all over the world to express themselves creatively. . This Healing Art’s Program has been utilized in Chile and Haiti. More information on the ICAF and its Healing Arts Program can be found at www.icaf.org.