Healing found in art

When words fail, sometimes art can help.
AUSTINTOWN -- When people think of holistic healing, Reiki, massage, or other modalities may come to mind. But often the process of creating works of art allows clients to get to the issues quicker and gain power over their situation, especially when the client is a very young, abused child.
Art therapist Mary Sue Hammond of Austintown believes creating art helps children express what they cannot put into words.
Hammond, who earned her master's degree in art therapy from Ursuline College, teaches at Laird and Jefferson elementary schools in Warren, where she works with multi-handicapped and autistic children, children who have behavioral and emotional problems, and have been physically or sexually abused. She also teaches regular art classes and has a studio in her home, where she sees clients of all ages.
She keeps her studio stocked with the usual items, like paper and clay, but also includes any odds and ends that can be used to create art, like recycled containers. And she has some special tools, such as mandalas and runes that help her clients process, problem solve and reach clarity in issues.
The designs
"Mandalas are designs based on a circle. Working your way around the circle helps things to unfold in a more natural way," says Hammond. "When children who have been physically or sexually abused work with a circle, it can be very angry. There are lots of slashes, ripping of paper, dark colors, scribbling, or pressure. Children are not as defensive when doing art as they would be when talking. After an image is out, it makes it easier to discuss."
She says after an image is on paper, she begins a dialogue.
"What is that angry looking dark section?" she might ask, and often the child admits that they want to kill or get back at someone. Many children include guns in their drawings.
Another exercise Hammond has her clients do is draw a circle that includes every member of the family in place doing something. "The father may be placed outside the circle, and that is very telling," she says. "Through drawing and dialoguing, the child often admits being abused."
Hammond is frustrated that, at this point, the information gained from art therapy cannot be used as evidence in the legal system. Children's Services say that the child has to verbally disclose cases of abuse. But the child has usually been threatened, and often feels guilty about having done something wrong. Sometimes they even think they will go to jail.
"They no longer trust adults," Hammond says. "If Children's Services and the courts would give more credit to the visual images created by abused children, and more credence to the art therapy process, then I think we would be able to stop the cycle of abuse that is so rampant."
Different situations
Not all of Hammond's clients are in such dire situations. While some of her adult clients are suffering from life threatening illnesses, others are just dealing with emotional issues or marital difficulties.
"With adults I often work with runes. A rune is a secret thing of mystery -- a ritual function for divination to evoke higher powers that can influence the lives of people," Hammond explains. The runes she uses came from Ursuline College, a little bag of flat stones, each of which has a different symbol. Each symbol has a different meaning and message.
Hammond has her clients pick a rune, draw the symbol on paper, then create a work of art around it. After the art is created, she looks up the meaning of the symbol and discusses it with her client, asking them to describe what they see, which may be a tiny image overcome by shapes and colors, created by someone who could be lonely or frantic. "It is amazing how spirit guides you to pick out the one rune with the right message," Hammond says.
She also uses mandalas with her adult clients. For adults with chronic illness, she uses a mandala book with tasks.
One task may be, "I will interact with my fear."
After the image is drawn, the client then interacts with it through automatic writing, a process in which the hand seems to have a mind of its own, and streams of random thought are written without concern about correct grammar, punctuation, or even if the words make immediate sense.
XHammond may be reached for questions or appointments at 330-506-0080 or hammondart@yahoo.com.

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