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Drawing hope 

Art therapy provides glimpse into troubled minds and shattered lives

In any upheaval where an entire generation of children is brutalized, the aftermath resonates with not only the horror of what has been done to them, but with what wrongs they themselves might feel compelled to do in the future. Humanitarian efforts are mobilized to deal with the physical emergencies while the wounded psyches, the emotional casualties, often are left untreated.

Enter ArtReach, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta that uses art therapy to help trauma victims all over the world. The results of its first expedition, "Project Bosnia," can be seen now through Feb. 17 at the Children's Arts Museum in Duluth.

ArtReach is the co-creation of Susan Anderson, founder of Artistic Connections, who along with Bob Thomas of LaGrange College, and Dr. Jane Rhoades Hudak of Georgia Southern University, conceived the idea of an organization committed to developing art therapy programs in areas of devastation after normal society is restored.

The exhibition features artwork done by Bosnian schoolchildren during the ArtReach team's first visit to Sarajevo last year.

"Ten thousand citizens were killed in Sarajevo; 3,000 of them were children," explains Holley Calmes, spokesperson for the Hudgens Center for the Arts, which houses the Children's Museum. "But the schools kept going. The older kids helped the younger ones get to school by timing the sniper shells as they ran from one building to the next.

"The ArtReach program is aimed at kids that act normal but have post-traumatic stress. It looks like artwork that any kid would create, but then you start looking closely and see the differences," she adds.

The Bosnian children's art show is an example of the use of art therapy in circumstances of extreme emotional devastation. But, according to its practitioners, art therapy is a healthy and valuable means of expression for everyone, at any age.

"Some people get confused and think that art therapy is just about analyzing artwork," says Jenny Welty-Green, an Atlanta art therapist who has worked with children for 16 years. "It's really about using the universal language of the creative element to help people work through things. It's great for people who are healthy, as well as those dealing with grief, anger or illness."

One of the art therapists who went with the ArtReach team to Bosnia was Susanne Fincher, founder of the Georgia Art Therapy Association. "Art therapy is a way of communicating what cannot be put into words," Fincher says. "That's why it works so well with children. They don't have the vocabulary that adults do. It's a natural form of communication for them, and all children love to draw."

The concept of art therapy in psychological analysis and evaluation began with the breakthrough ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Jung was fascinated with the metaphors inherent in the mandala -- a Sanskrit word meaning "magic circle."

"A mandala is a drawing done in a circle," explains Fincher, who has written several books on the subject. "Circular drawing evokes a sense of wholeness and identity." Drawing mandalas was one of many ArtReach projects with the children of Bosnia.

Art therapy owes a debt to the father of modern psychoanalysis, as well. "It started with Freud, because he made us look at ourselves inside," says art therapist Maxine Hull, who teaches and leads workshops in addition to her extensive private practice.

According to Hull, the two pioneers of modern-day art therapy were Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer. Naumburg first began publishing her ideas in the 1940s, while Kramer was famous for using art therapy with children. During these formative years, two schools of thought emerged -- the concept of using art therapy as a diagnostic tool, and the usage of its interactive healing qualities. One approach was analytical, the other cathartic.

"There are many ways of using art therapeutically and it depends on the person and patient," explains Hull. "Working with children is different than with adults. A child develops at different stages, and their cognition and capacity to understand changes as they get older. Even as teenagers, they respond differ-ently. With an adult, you're working with a different insight. A child is living the art. A child thinks it's the world, an adult feels it's their soul talking.

"The language of the deepest part of us is images in metaphor," Hull adds. "Art therapy taps that source. All human beings need to be heard. If you want to create a healthy child, let him talk so he'll know he's accepted."

Annie Kelahan, a registered art therapist and director of The Bridge Family Center in Atlanta, a residential family treatment facility, uses art therapy during family counseling. "An amazing thing is that in family therapy it equalizes all the members. All of a sudden, the kids are just as competent as the parents when they draw. And only a picture can express such contradictory feelings as love and hate at the same time."

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