What I love about using art in therapeutic groupwork with Aboriginal women is giving them an opportunity to do some gentle inner reflection during the creation process, without causing retraumatisation. The idea from narrative therapy of being positioned on the riverbank to look at a problem, rather than feeling tossed around in the river, influenced the development of an activity we’ve called the ‘the storms of life’. This exercise was developed with an Elder with the intention of allowing women who have experienced violence or other trauma, to observe their problem moving away from them and letting go of whatever may be holding them back.
Any kids of art materials can be used such as paint, pastels, pencils or collage bits and pieces. The women are instructed to close or lower their eyes and imagine they are sitting on a beach, with water lapping at their feet and the sound of waves and a gentle breeze. They are safe and comfortable in this place. They do not have to leave this place of safety. They are encouraged to picture a storm in the distance over the horizon, slowly moving away from them. This storm holds memories of those things that have happened in the past, that still cause uncomfortable or painful feelings for them. After a few minutes when the women have a clear picture in their mind, they are encouraged to draw what they see. It is important the women stick with the metaphor and do not draw the bad things that have happened. You may like to encourage the women to think about colour; if it is dark or light, loud or soft, heavy or light; and the presence, intensity and distance of clouds, lightning, rain or wind.
I usually give women a good 20 to 30 minutes to draw or create. There is never any pressure for women to share their drawing however some choose to do so. This has been a powerful affirmation with others in the group as witnesses, of women’s intentions to make one small change for themselves or their children.
The fire is a strong symbol of healing, as a gathering place for sorting out problems, sharing stories and offering support to each other. Tiwi Elders have also used fire as a way of ridding bad spirits. When we have run this activity on healing bush camps, the women have been keen to burn their drawings as a way of letting go of bad feelings.
It has been interesting to observe the sense of movement that is created on paper through the externalisation of ‘the storms of life’. This movement has transferred to women as a collective following their traditional instincts of letting go of bad spirits, creating a profound sense of healing.