When I am asked what I do for a living and share I’m an art therapist at a sexual abuse center, the responses are mixed. I receive an array of responses which are usually to change the subject or one of sympathy and expressions of, “that must be so hard.” Is it hard to see the pain caused by sexual violence? Absolutely. However, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences to witness survivors come in a place of pain and leave in a place of success and confidence. When survivors come to Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, they are coming to begin their journey to heal. They are ready to stop letting their trauma define them. Sexual abuse is a crime about power and control. Survivors come to us to regain the power and control that was taken from them in the most vulnerable way. People come to ZCenter to heal. Witnessing the process of a survivor’s healing is one of the most powerful experiences I have the privilege of being a part of.
Recently, I was able to work with a client who has experienced multiple traumas in her life. When I began working with this client, she felt she was to blame for her abuse and felt very lost. The client began making artwork to express how she was feeling. When trauma occurs, it is typically not a verbal experience the survivor has. Typically sexual trauma is nonverbal. Accessing the parts of the brain where the trauma is stored is difficult to do with words because words are not what hurt the survivor. Art is a great way for survivors to access the same part of the brain where the trauma is stored and express emotions about the trauma without having to talk about it. My client found using art to be very helpful for her healing process. She created several pieces to express how she felt before, during, and after her sexual abuse. The pieces she created expressed her pain and sadness experienced. Throughout our time working together, the survivor began to find her voice again and regain her power and control. She began to realize the assault was not her fault and started to feel she was in control of her life again. The sexual trauma was no longer the sole force driving her life; the survivor was in charge. Toward the end of our work together, the survivor took a piece of artwork she had created about her sexual trauma and wrote a poem on top of the artwork. In the poem she expressed her reclaim of control of power over her life. She used the poem to express her anger and frustration over the assault but it was also utilized to inspire and support other survivors that they are not alone or to blame. The poem overlaying the artwork is symbolic of her healing process and how far she has come since beginning her work.
It is healing journeys like these that are the reason ZCenter exists. Everything a survivor needs to heal is already within them. ZCenter provides them with a space that is safe and allows what is within them to be present. The healing is already happening when a survivor walks through the door. I feel honored to be able to witness their journey and help them along in any way that I can.