SEATTLE — The need for psychological and emotional support for victims following a natural disaster, particularly in developing countries, is extreme. The humanitarian organization Save The Children has been using art therapy in Pakistan to help children cope after a natural disaster.
In July 2010, the worst flood in the history of Pakistan ravaged the countryside, destroying homes, schools and water supply systems. According to the Government of Pakistan, over 20 million people were affected by the natural disaster, including nine million children.
In a study conducted by Pakistani scholars after the 2010 flood, it was discovered that over 96 percent of the 522 Pakistani school children (average age of 12-13) participating in the study suffered from partial symptoms or a probable diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Of the children experiencing symptoms of PTSD, more than 73 percent exhibited levels high enough to suppress the normal functioning of their immune system.
In order to help children recover after the devastating flood, Save The Children provided aid and established 174 child friendly spaces across the country. These child-friendly spaces are designed to include art therapy sessions, group counseling and a safe place for kids to play — providing children with a sense of normality and security. So far, more than 130,000 children have benefitted from the organization’s emotional support.
Shazia Mohammed, one of the few qualified art therapists in Pakistan, discussed the benefits of art therapy in an article published in the Dawn newspaper. She claims that, “Research supports the claim that art therapy with a qualified practitioner relieves pain and suffering.” According to psychologist at Save The Children, many of the children experienced feelings of shyness, aggression, insecurity and fear.
Mohammed further explains that language can often be limiting, while means of artistic expression such as drawing, painting and sculpture are able to subjectively communicate feelings to the therapist. The use of color, texture and other artistic elements allow buried emotions and impressions, “which are often stored as images within us,” to flow freely.
Furthermore, the level of one’s artistic ability does not affect how they benefit from art therapy. A recent study conducted by Girija Kaimal (EdD) suggests that the process of making art significantly reduces stress, with no correlation to past artistic skill level.
In only one year, Save The Children has protected over 35,000 children from harm and supported more than 133,000 children in times of crisis. Through the use of art therapy in Pakistan, children are able to open up to therapists, reduce stress and get the help they desperately need.
– Kristyn Rohrer