By, Aimee Palladino
This morning NCAS-I held our third art experiential with the girls at Transitions. As art therapists, it is important to understand the therapeutic qualities of art materials in accessing and expressing inner content. Art materials are containers, vehicles and partners in the therapeutic process. They hold and become the metaphor of one’s experience. As a result, in working with Transitions, it has been important to consider what art projects would be culturally competent, developmentally appropriate, and sustainable. This morning’s activity was particularly exciting because it used local resources and offered a sensory and somatic experience for the girls. Using rice (from the local market) and indigenous scents (Cambodian essential oils), the girls created individualized aromatherapy pillows.
The workshop began with a short opening activity using sculpey (colorful clay). Each girl began with a piece of clay which they made into a shape. They then passed their shape to the person sitting next to them who added to it using their own clay. The pieces continued to be passed around the circle until they arrived back to where they started. Ultimately, each person ends up with a modified creation made from the additions of everyone in the group. Our “sculpey-circle” birthed colorful worlds of reds, greens, purples, and yellows — a meticulously detailed bowl, a wildly colored flying heart, little smiling creatures with eyebrows, antennas, tails and polka-dots. The giggles, exclamations, intrigue, and sustained engagement in the circle reflected the inherent value of this activity — to build community using sensory experience. There is no “wrong way” to create — any addition is valued; every mark is seen. Within minutes, thirteen completely unique, magical, and special creations took form.
This sensory and collaborative activity laid a foundation for us to transition into making the aromatherapy pillows. Bowls of rice were arranged in front of each girl, stacks of soft colorfully patterned fabric set out, and several local essential oils were passed around to smell. Sensory opportunities abounded. After choosing a favorite scent, the girls poured them into their bowls of rice, using their hands to mix the textured rice grains with the silky oils. This rice mixture served as the filling for the pillow. Next, the girls chose fabric, created embellishments from fabric scraps, and fastened a button. The activity required patiently sewing the fabric sides, which the girls did diligently, each offering their own unique methods for working through this potentially tedious step. In the end, each girl successfully created their own special aromatherapy pillow.
Our senses are our most basic, familiar way of exploring and processing the world. For the girls, the act of smelling the oils, running their fingers through rice, and working with the soft fabric offered opportunities for body awareness, catharsis and self-soothing. In addition, the repetitive motion of sewing offered opportunities for somatic and sensory self-regulation. All of these moments allowed for the experience of self-awareness and self-care. In the end, Sue invited the girls to rest comfortably with their pillows (some placed them on their eyes and necks, while others rested on top of them). She engaged them in a visualization, leading each girl to a place of comfort and safety. These pillows could be used to access self-soothing, reconnection and positive attachment to the self. It was amazing to see the girls cradle their pillows, carry them on their shoulders and necks, repeatedly smelling them. Just like transitional objects, the pillows offer a physical and internalized sense of safety and self-love.
As we continue to unpack and unfold the complicated world of gender, economy, freedom, fairness, and culture that frames our developing dialogue on sex-trafficking and therapy, moments like this morning further confirm for me the multifaceted nature of artistic expression. I have witnessed how art accesses individual creativity and cultivates community; is non-verbal and yet deeply conversational; is both challenging and empowering.