Why Creative Arts Therapy For Abused Children?

Background on the War Against Child Abuse
Maltreatment of children (neglect, medical neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional or psychological abuse) continues to be a significant problem in the United States.

In calendar year 2000, more than 3 million cases were reported to Child Protective Services agencies concerning the welfare of 5 million children.  After investigation, approximately 879,000 children were confirmed to be serious victims of child maltreatment. Child abuse reports have maintained a steady growth for the past fifteen years with the total number of reports nationwide increasing over 45% since 1987. (Sources: USDH&HS; NCPCA; OCCAPC; TDPRS; NCCAN; USABCA&N).

According to the most recent national data compiled, as of July 2002, over 13,700 children are abused or neglected each day and four children die each day because of child abuse by a parent or caretaker. More than 18,000 children are permanently disabled every year. More than 565,000 children are seriously injured every year. And, it is now estimated that there are more than 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today. These startling statistics are frightening. (Sources: See Above)   

Child abuse and neglect cause physical and/or emotional harm to children. They can produce short-term psychological consequences that range from poor peer relations to violent behavior, as well as untold long-term psychological and economic consequences when children reach adulthood. Abuse and neglect can result in serious injury or, in extreme cases, death.

Long term effects of child abuse include fear, mistrust, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, hatred, ambivalence, betrayal, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse, difficulty with close relationships, guilt and a higher risk of developing mental health disorders. Immediate intervention and cessation of the abuse is clearly essential.

Once the child has been removed from the abuse situation, the child must have effective therapeutic treatment. The primary goals of therapy for abused children are to address their feelings about themselves, address what has happened to them and address their future relationships. Both individual and group therapeutic approaches are proven most effective in conjunction with creative arts therapy.

Creative Arts Therapy: It’s Roots
The therapeutic value of the creative arts has long been acknowledged in history. Many cultures have been aware of the healing virtues of art activities whether as individual, group or cultural expressions. Visions, dreams, masks, symbols, art objects endowed with mystical powers were all part of the shaman or healer’s tools. In every culture, decoration, jewelry, painting, dance and music all played their part in celebrations and life cycle rituals. In these contexts people have always been familiar with the power of creative expression. However, it wasn’t until around 1900 that all the influences came together and creative arts therapy emerged as a way of focusing this power in modern psychological healing methodologies.

Creative Arts Therapy: Defined
The term creative arts therapy technically includes drama therapy, psychodrama, music therapy, art therapy, dance/movement therapy and poetry therapy. Through these creative arts, abused children can express repressed traumatic experiences and deal with the psychological impact of maltreatment. Without this process, it is doubtful they will ever grow to become functional adults. The process facilitates educational, psychodynamic, cognitive and transpersonal means of reconciling emotional conflicts; builds self-esteem; fosters self-awareness; develops social skills; helps manage behavior, solve problems and reduce anxiety; aids reality orientation; renews trust with a caring adult; and, helps the abused child learn to express emotions in a positive way.