By Emily Seagrave
“Art therapy helps people experience increased well-being through a number of creative pathways that uniquely illuminate purpose and meaning and increase positive emotions and engagement” (Wilkinson & Chilton, 2013, p. 5).
So many of the experiences I have had in Cambodia – from working at Anjali House and CWCC to meeting human rights activist, Arn Chorn Pond, and countless other inspiring individuals – have highlighted the joy, hope, and strength alive in a country where there has been so much destruction. Each new experience I have informs those that came before it, adding more depth and meaning to my overall learning. And as I absorb my surroundings, more and more each day, I gain a better understanding of my role and my purpose in being here as a developing art therapist.
In particular, working with the staff and the clients at CWCC provided a clear example of how effective the creative process can be at providing, what Carrie Herbert, Arts Psychotherapist, as well as Co-Founder and Director of The Ragamuffin Project, called a reservoir of health and well-being for the people of Cambodia. While I continue to sit with many heartbreaking stories of individuals who have endured unimaginable traumas, I have witnessed joy and strength brought forth through art and the creative process. Watching the transformation of art materials during the “Open Studio” evenings at CWCC offered such rich experiences for bearing witness to the resourcefulness and strength born from creative expression. Balloons and newspaper intended to be used to create paper bowls suddenly transformed into beautiful lanterns embellished with hand carved stamps. Art materials exchanged hands and loosened the boundaries of the different art activities planned for the evening. The single individual who used her creative resources to transform the art materials into something unique pulled others in with the joy evident in her process, and by the end of the evening, a string of balloon lanterns adorned the doorway.
As Arn Chorn Pond and Carrie Herbert have both emphasized, creativity really is essential for communities to thrive. Working with the staff and children at Anjali House and the staff, women, and children at CWCC is proof of art’s capability to create an environment where individuals can utilize their own unique strengths to thrive. As a developing art therapist, I feel it is my job to identify and facilitate for clients those creative opportunities which do have the capacity to bring about individual strengths and ultimately promote health, well-being, and greater resilience in the face of future struggles.
I am grateful to those who have shared their stories of injustice and struggle and am equally moved to have witnessed their perseverance and resilience. I hold neither in vain, and I am fortunate to have such personal experiences informing my future work as an art therapist.
Wilkinson, R. A. & Chilton, G. (2013). Positive art therapy: Linking positive psychology to art therapy theory, practice, and research. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 30(1), pp. 4-11.
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