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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Baker, MA

Using Art Therapy for Victims of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is an ongoing concern in the United States. In fact, one out of five women reported that she has experienced sexual abuse at some point in her life.

Survivors have been known to face significant physical, emotional and social ripples from the trauma they have experienced. Aside from that, they also struggle with changes in personality and relationships.

There is a tendency towards shame and secrecy related to sexual abuse. Studies revealed that 52% of women reported not disclosing sexual abuse histories due to shame, guilt and fear. Many of them are also reluctant to engage in traditional therapeutic methods because they didn’t think counseling would help. Therefore, it is important to find alternative interventions that can help them get through this traumatic experience.

Art therapy

Art therapy is defined as the process of using art to address the victim’s emotional and psychological needs. It is a way to assist survivors in coping with traumatic memories, express and contain their emotions, provide an empowering outlet and establish a sense of safety.

Art-making can be a safe way for clients to tell their stories. Since most of them are unable to express their feelings through words, they use art to encourage clients to disclose traumatic memories. Here, therapists, ask clients to draw or paint a picture, create a collage or sculpt to tell stories and express their deep rooted feelings, which are extremely difficult to express verbally.

Most of these survivors have volatile feelings like anger and rage, but they were never given the chance to express how they really feel. Art therapy provides a safe place to explore these powerful emotions. Here, they are given the permission to release their anger by ripping the paper, destroying the paper, poking clay sculptures etc.

Despite how helpful art therapy can be to survivors of sexual abuse, studies show that art therapy is under-utilized.


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