Developing a Visual Vocabulary

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Eileen P. McGann


For children and adolescents who have experienced trauma the world can be a scary and confusing place. Trust is difficult to maintain and regulation of emotional and affective states is compromised. Developmental and trauma theory informs us that the earliest and most fundamental ways in which people experience a sense of safety is through touch, their physical and sensory experience of the world. Sensory, visceral responses to art materials can lead to reconstruction and integration (McGann, 2006), if there is sufficient structure, support, consistency, acceptance and nurturance provided. Working in a day treatment program, which relies upon collaboration between educators and clinicians there is a delicate balance of behavioral and therapeutic systems. Drawing upon the ideology of creating sanctuary this presentation will define the constructs of a therapeutic program and explore through case presentations how art therapy is integrated with multidisciplinary staff, and applied in sessions with children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. The need to develop a visual vocabulary for the art therapist will be highlighted in the process.

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