HOW AND WHO CAN OUTSKIRTS HELP THROUGH ART THERAPY?
The following scenarios are based on true case studies showing the effectiveness and practical implementation of Art Therapy with the kind of clients that may be referred to a service like the one potentially provided by Outskirts. These case studies serve to illustrate the front line use of the practical and therapeutic interventions an organisation like Outskirts could provide and bring to life the support that such a service could offer those feeling vulnerable and marginalised.
Tracey is 50 years old and has lived for the past 2 years in a homeless hostel. She has a history of drug dependency and currently receives ongoing specialist support to remain sober. This is a constant struggle for Tracey who has described to her Key Worker many traumatic experiences that ‘haunt her’. She is able to tell her Key Worker that she has in the past been gang raped while working as a sex worker but is unable to talk any further about the incident. Her Key Worker feels these past traumas play a great part in the difficulties Tracey faces to remain sober and thriving in her life and decides to refer Tracey to Outskirts. Outskirts is a charity that offers Art Therapy and practical support to those who feel marginalised.
Tracey initially says she does not want this kind of support but Amma, an Art Therapist from Outskirts meets with Tracey and her Key Worker to talk about what Art Therapy may be like. Tracey says she hates art and feels she is no good at it, she says she was told she was bad at art at school. Amma explains that Art Therapy is not about being ‘good’ at art at all, but about having fun with the materials and finding different ways to express and think about feelings. She is still not sure, as it is hard for her to trust, but Amma assures her that she can come and not use the art materials at all if she doesn’t want to, and that it’s mostly important that she gets some time and space for herself.
Tracey agrees to attend one session to see how she feels and Amma assures her that this is fine and that she will also be assessing if Art Therapy is the right thing for Tracey.
In the first session Tracey decides to tell Amma ‘everything’. She talks for 50 minutes and becomes very tearful at times. Amma is aware of how hard this is for Tracey and helps her to focus on some more positive things toward the end of the first session in order to help her cope when she leaves the therapy room after this first experience of thinking about so many difficult issues. They talk about her sobriety and her bravery in the face of all she has been through.
In the following sessions Tracey still struggles to feel confident enough to use the art materials but Amma reassures her that this is fine. During one session Amma gets out a lump of clay and decides to play with it in her hands as they chat. She squashes, flattens, rolls and thumps it. Tracey takes interest and decides she would like to “thump something”! She takes the clay and while Amma checks that Tracey remains safe she continues to thump the clay several times. She laughs that it feels “quite good” and leaves the clay lump in the shape of her fist to dry.
Over the following weeks Tracey makes several clay ‘fists’ by thumping the clay. She paints them in different colours and talks about how she has never made any thing before that she can feel proud of. She enjoys each week looking at the works that Amma keeps safely for her in her box. She talks about how nice it feels to see them safe each week and how they have been looked after.
Amma helps Tracey to think about the feelings that go with being “looked after” and the desire Tracey may have sometimes to “thump things”. When Amma talks with her about her clay works she finds it easier to discuss and understand her feelings of anger and neglect related to her past and present.
Amma reminds Tracey of this whenever she struggles and gives her some practical advice on ways in which she can express her feelings and how she may be able to ask for help if needed.
Before ending her sessions with Outskirts Tracey meets with both her Key Worker and Amma so they can all talk together about some of the difficulties she faces and the new ways in which she has learnt to express her feelings and ask for help. Both Tracey and her Key Worker feel this will be important in their ongoing relationship and their work together, as well as for any future relationships Tracey may have.
Claire is 24 years old and has come to the attention of the Social Services Child Protection team due to reports of distress in her child, aged 8. Her son Paul is worrying his teachers as he is presenting as disruptive, challenging and aggressive in class. This is out of character for Paul and social services investigate the concerns.
Claire tells her social worker that she has been involved in several relationships including that with Paul’s father, which she describes as “fiery”. On further discussion it becomes apparent that Claire has been involved in domestically violent relationships for most of her adult life. With her most recent relationship, Paul has witnessed her being humiliated, dominated, controlled and beaten. The relationship has now ended but Claire expresses her struggle to see her ex-partner as abusive despite his behaviours, or that she has been in a relationship involving domestic violence. She says she is considering resuming the relationship, despite support from her social worker. Social Services warn Claire that this may jeopardise her custody of her child but Claire continues to struggle to see how the abuse is relevant to her son.
Claire’s social worker refers Claire to Outskirts, a charity dedicated to supporting women and those who feel marginalised through practical support and Art Therapy.
Claire is reluctant but on meeting Amma, an Outskirts Art Therapist, for an initial assessment she realises that she will not be forced to engage with anything that she is not comfortable with.
In the first few sessions Amma introduces Claire to the art materials and she is able to play and have fun experimenting with them, although she sometimes feels a bit silly. She feels like she is a child again and tells Amma that it has been a long time since she has had time to herself to think, time just for her.
When Amma explains that lots of women she has worked with feel this way and that the time is indeed just for her, Claire begins to feel safer and more comfortable in talking about some of her recent and past experiences. Using the art materials she depicts experiences she has had but has never told anyone and the art makes exploring these experiences easier when she struggles to find the words.
Claire begins to realise that some of the behaviours of her ex-partner have not been ok, that despite it being all she has known, it is not how she wishes to be treated. She realises that it is not her fault and that everyone deserves to be safe.
Amma begins to use some tools to help Claire, such as Dulith’s Power and Control Wheel, so she can see that she is not alone in the experiences she has had and that many women face similar difficulties. Amma helps Claire to draw a time line and fill in her experiences so she can clearly see all she has been through and any patterns that may emerge. She chats with Amma about how she sees and experiences the world as a woman and Amma reassures her that she is not alone in feeling this way. She talks about her family, her past and her hopes and dreams for the future for her and Paul.
Amma helps Claire to see how Paul may be affected by the way he sees his mother being treated, that it may impact on the way he grows into a man. Claire becomes angry at this thought, she is faced with something she has never been able to consider before.
Amma and Claire continue to address these issues through playing with paint and clay and Claire uses the time to gain some clarity and perspective and consider the reasons why she may have found herself in this place as well as how she may feel empowered to make changes.
With Claire’s permission Amma also meets with the social worker dealing with the family. She makes it clear that the work she is doing with Outskirts is confidential but that where Paul is concerned, it’s most appropriate that everyone works together on occasion to ensure Paul and Claire are both safe.
In conjunction with this Amma offers Claire some practical advice on keeping safe, spotting abusive traits in others when starting a new relationship and she gives Claire the contact details of other organisations in her area that can help her with the next step in her journey.
Rachel has been feeling increasingly tearful and upset at work. In the past she has felt that she has been successful in her role as a teacher, but since the appointing of a new head teacher at her school, she has been feeling increasingly upset and suffering from a lack of confidence in her abilities. She begins to call in sick to work because she can’t bare the conflict and criticism she feels she faces at work and begins to consider resigning from her job. Her GP has prescribed anti-depressants to help Rachel cope with her difficult feelings but Rachel feels she needs more support. She finds Outskirts online, a charity that supports women and those who feel marginalised through practical support and Art Therapy.
An assessment session is arranged for Rachel to attend Outskirts and speak with an Art Therapist about what may help. Rachel feels positive that the sessions will help her make sense of her upset and why she suddenly feels so incapable. Rachel meets with Amma, an Art Therapist who asks her some initial questions to get a sense of why she may have self-referred.
Rachel is surprised that she feels so uncomfortable with the questions and she begins to feel the way she does at work, interrogated and criticised. Amma can tell this is hard for Rachel and suggests they leave the questions for now and have a play with the art materials together instead. Rachel laughs at what she feels is the silliness of the drawing they have done together, yet she feels a little more relaxed. In the following sessions Rachel feels comfortable in talking a little more about her feelings related to work and Amma reminds her of how she felt when they first met.
Rachel uses the art materials to draw and represent the similarities of these situations as she remembers them and Amma is able to ask questions about the art work, which feels easier for Rachel to engage with. Using the art work she has created Rachel begins to gain some perspective and distance that she feels is helpful, she begins to feel she can really address the issues that result in her feeling so criticised. She is able to talk about past incidents where she has also felt vulnerable and wonders about the stress of feeling this way again in the future. Thinking about her relationship with Amma, Rachel can also think about other relationships that she has struggled with, including those with her current colleagues.
With support Rachel is able to think about the part she can play in making changes in her life that may empower her and Amma helps Rachel with some practical suggestions about how she may be more assertive and find ways for her needs to be met. Although Rachel finds it difficult, they use the art and role play to explore these new ways of relating.
After 14 sessions Rachel feels more confident and says that her work life is getting better but that she still feels in further need of the support Amma has provided.
Amma offers Rachel an additional 4 sessions and with this clear ending in sight Rachel takes active steps in her sessions to create a ‘tool kit’ for her to take with her when the work ends and she leaves the support of Outskirts. Rachel takes her notes, drawings and clay works with her in a folder and box, including the drawing she and Amma made together at the beginning of their time together. She can look back on these objects when she feels she needs reminding of how far she has come.