In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Lesley's Expressive Therapies program worked in conjunction with Boston’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church to present a public forum that promoted healing through artistic expression.
Traditional psychotherapy relies primarily on exploring one’s emotional landscape through the medium of words. But for many people, words do not always suffice. By bringing an understanding of all the arts—music, visual art, dance, drama, poetry and literature—into the therapeutic environment, therapists help people find ways to “say” what’s on their minds and begin to heal from traumatic experiences.
The Boston community had much need of healing in the weeks after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, as people in the city and around the country mourned those who had died and cheered the recovery of those who were injured. The public distress, which spread in concentric circles from the marathon finish line into city streets, was keenly felt by congregants of Boston’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church (located just blocks away from the bombing site) and by students and faculty of Lesley University’s Expressive Therapies program. Together, they created “When Words Are Not Enough,” a public event last month to support the community’s efforts toward healing.
Expressive Therapies, a field that was pioneered at Lesley, combines a thorough clinical understanding of trauma with the creativity of the arts to “help people process and begin to make sense of their emotions,” says Mitchell Kossak, associate professor and division director. “They provide a vehicle for people to tell their stories, to be heard, and to receive empathy,” he says.
“When Words Are Not Enough” drew about 80 people to Lindsey Chapel at Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street. Participants ranged from Emmanuel congregants, to Lesley students, to members of the public, all of whom were invited to make prayer flags. These traditional Tibetan banners are often strung along mountain ridges and peaks in the Himalayas to promote qualities such as peace and compassion. It is believed that the flags, which flutter in the slightest breeze, carry blessings into the surrounding environment. One hundred of the prayer flags were strung together at the church and delivered to the memorial site at Copley Square by a group of participants who sang “Nobody’s Gonna Take My Peace From Me” as they walked.
Boston-area community leaders also reached out to Lesley’s Expressive Therapies program, including the office of Massachusetts State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents Dorchester—home to 8-year-old marathon bombing victim Martin Richard. As a result, Lesley-trained arts therapist volunteers, including alumna Heidi Katz, worked with the Dorchester Arts Collaborative to provide grief therapy to young people affected by the tragedy. Their efforts helped neighborhood children to draw, dance, and drum as a way of helping them give voice to not only their anxieties in the wake of the bombing but also their resilience.
The Emmanuel Church-Expressive Therapies event was a great success, says Kossak, and he explains that the church had approached Lesley about initiating a joint project before the bombings. When the marathon tragedy occurred, the resulting confusion and grief in the community galvanized the development of “When Words Are Not Enough.”
“People who have been through trauma like the Boston Marathon bombings, even those who were not at the marathon finish line, continue to heal emotionally,” Kossak says. “When you get them in a room with a trained arts therapist doing activities such as singing songs, writing poetry, and making music, it helps relieve their stress and it gives them hope.”
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