May 15, 2015
The woman picked up the broken seashell and ran her finger across the ridges and jagged edges. When she turned the shell over to look at the other side, she was struck by how smooth and polished it was. “This side just looks perfect,” she said. “It reminds me of me on the outside. If you look at me, nobody would know about all my cracks or that I feel broken inside.”
She and the other participants of the YWCA Central Alabama’s new Art Therapy Support Group said the program allows them to express themselves through artwork while developing friendships and a support system. The combination, they said, is helping them heal.
“Art helps us get outside of ourselves, and the process of creating and putting something in the world that wasn’t there before can be very healing” said Marlyse Hirschy, a licensed therapist who recently joined the YW staff. “We use art as a foundation for the group members to connect with each other. If you’re busy doing something, it’s easier to open up.”
Hirschy said she has had success with art therapy groups in the past and wanted to try it at the YW. “In Boston, I worked with a lot of women who had trauma stories and were feeling very isolated,” she said. “It was really hard for them to connect because they had difficulties with trust. They came in the first week and could hardly handle sitting at a table with anyone else. By the end, they were exchanging phone numbers and building connections outside of the group. It was such a powerful experience for them.”
Six weeks into the program, the group at the YW has already noticed a difference. “These women have been incredible in their insight,” one participant said of her fellow group members. “We all have our own stories, but all of these people and all of their experiences help me keep going.”
That shared support is perhaps the biggest benefit, Hirschy said. “We all have struggles,” she said. “This is a place to come and share those struggles and encourage one another. We also learn to find beauty in a lot of ordinary things that we use to create art, and there’s a deeper metaphor in that. We can take the old broken things in our lives and create something meaningful from them.”
And for just a little while each week, the women can focus on something other than their struggles. “It lets me be a kid again,” one woman said. “It’s OK to get paint all over you, and to just play. It’s a reminder to slow down and exhale. For this hour and a half, there’s no right or wrong. Nobody’s judging you. I can leave everything at the door.”