Drawing Out the Self: Art Therapy Group for Survivors Through the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE)

The Cause

The healing process after trauma from sexual violence is something that doesn’t happen all at once: it takes time, and it takes continued support. And sometimes we just don’t have the words to express how we feel.

SACE exists to empower individuals and communities affected by sexual abuse and assault. Each year, we provide thousands of hours of counselling to survivors of sexual violence over the age of three. While much can be addressed through talking therapies, gaining access to traumatic experiences through sensory, body-based forms of memory as well gives survivors one more tool to be able to heal. Body-based therapies can be overwhelming though, and with a program like Drawing Out the Self, clients will be able to branch out with the distance and control of art making in a supportive and familiar environment.

Art therapy supports the process of healing by helping people to bypass the inner talk that monitors and judges verbal expression, and to access and release stored emotions and experiences they may not be able to express in words. Often it can be hard to verbally express feelings like shame or overwhelming fear, and the only way to move these emotions is through creative means. Non-verbal expression can also be important for processing traumas that occurred as a young child before learning to speak.

Facilitated by an Art Therapist and a SACE Counsellor, this program will create a safe space for healing that allows this process to take place, and encourages the client to then work through what the creative piece brings to the surface in a supportive, directed environment. The approach helps clients to find personal meaning and direction, reduce stress and anxiety, cope with pain, enhance cognitive abilities, develop resilience, self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence, and act as a transition after counselling therapy.

Who Will it Benefit?

With 1 in 3 Canadian women and at least 1 in 6 Canadian men experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime, this is an issue that impacts every individual, family and community. Sexual violence crosses all social boundaries, affects individuals of every age, gender, cultural background, ability, sexual orientation, and socio-economic level, and can have devastating impacts on the lives of victims, their loved ones, and their communities. With statistics as high as they are, we all know someone who has been affected by this crime.

Of course, these are not just individuals living in isolation; they are integral parts of our community. They have partners, employers and friends. They are parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They are teachers, and they are students. They support businesses, and they run businesses. They are adults and children of all genders. Individuals who have experienced sexual violence are absolutely essential to the functioning of our homes, schools, work, and daily lives.

Fortunately, at SACE we know that people can and do heal. The first step is to listen, to believe, and to support. By extending the support SACE is able to provide with this art therapy program, survivors have one more avenue to be able to work through what they have experienced, and the difference this healing makes in the life of a survivor extends to benefit every member of our community.

Potential participants in this art therapy program will be adults who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, and who have accessed support through SACE. The change we see in survivors who have received support is something that extends much further, to their families, loved ones, and communities: it benefits everyone.