Lesley expressive therapies expertise being applied at global disaster scenes to aid healing of children and other survivors.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
So, in mid-August, Dr. Vivien Marcow Speiser, director of Lesley University’s Institute for Arts and Health and International and Collaborative Programs, will head to South Korea. There, she and Lesley expressive art therapy alumnus Aviel Hadari will lead several days of disaster-relief training for groups of clergy and clinicians who will be working with people who have been directly affected by the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry off the island of Jindo in South Korea. That incident resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people. The two are undertaking the trip in conjunction with the Israel-based relief organization IsraAID.
According to Marcow Speiser, who won the 2014 Distinguished Fellows Award from the Global Alliance for Arts & Health, the training focuses on practical tools needed to aid the process of coping, as well as help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the community.
“The word ‘Lesley’ has become synonymous with creative learning approaches that integrate the arts,” she says, adding that this outreach to South Korea is consistent with the university’s mission to assist under-served populations. The relief effort is also consistent with the Jewish notion of “tikkun olam” or the repair of the world, she adds.
Throughout her career, Marcow Speiser has used the arts as a way of communicating across borders and cultures, and she believes in the power of the arts to create the conditions for personal and social change. As a founder and past director of the Arts Institute Project in Israel, she has been influential in the development of expressive arts therapy in that country.
In an effort to “boost the individual and community resilience” in South Korea, she and Hadari will be applying this sort of expertise to their work with clergy members and therapists there.
“We’ll use the usual toolbox,” she says, referring to movement and drama activities, musical instruments, scarves, paper and markers, and possibly a parachute. “We want to give the participants a variety of tools that they use.”
Marcow Speiser explains that this sort of therapy is a “body-based approach,” where a scarf can come to symbolize a safe space for a survivor of trauma, particularly a child. “You can do the same thing with tape on the floor,” she says.
Similarly, a parachute can be used to help multiple trauma survivors at once, as they move together, gripping it simultaneously, run in a circle, shake it or make it billow overhead. The idea is to get people working together in an exercise to foster community-building, communication, trust and, eventually, healing.
“All children’s games function in the same way,” she says. “Little, simple games like red light-green light” can be used in the healing process. “Anybody who’s been affected by trauma tends to freeze up, and these games can help undo that harmful process.”
Trauma stays with you, even on an unconscious level, no matter what age you are when it happens, Marcow Speiser adds.
“To almost every American you could say, ‘Where were you on Sept. 11?’ These traumatic events get locked in our bodies,” she says. “When the stories begin to come out, you begin to find that people connect directly to it.”
Storytelling builds resilience, she says. Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and anxiety in an adverse situation. It is the ability to recover from adversity. She adds that the telling of stories and the expression of personal narratives through a wide variety of art forms to a community of witnesses can be a powerful tool for individuals working through difficult experiences.
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