Art therapist speaks to University students about helping adolescents deal with violent pasts

After a 5-year-old girl was shot in the arm by her uncle, she became violent and withdrawn. She spent several weeks in the hospital and received therapy from Linda Chapman, a leading expert in art and play child therapy. @@[email protected]@

Chapman spoke to approximately 100 people Thursday night in Lillis Business Complex, bringing to light the alternative form of play and art therapy. This was part of the Lecture on Arts and American Culture put on by the Oregon Humanities Center.

The 5-year-old in question was unable to discuss her experience, and instead used drawings to express her feelings. Therapy began with simple sketches and expanded into drawing what happened in the incident. After several sessions with Chapman, the girl worked through many of the traumas associated with the incident and again felt safe in her world.

Julia Heydon, associate director of Oregon Humanities Center, introduced Chapman with glowing praise. @@[email protected]@

“She is an internationally recognized expert in the field of working with children and adolescents who have been abused as a child,” she said. “She also created and directed the pediatric and play therapy program at the San Francisco General Hospital.”

Violence among children and adolescents is a growing problem in the United States. The U.S. government has spent approximately $425 billion on violent crimes, according to Chapman. There were more than three million child abuse referrals in 2008, she said, and there were 116 students killed in school violence between 1992 and 2006.

“We all live in a very violent world and we are all affected by violence,” Chapman said. “Men and women are exposed to violence every day, whether it be an abused child or violence in the schools.”

She touched on the subject of violent video games and how people are affected by playing them. There were 35 school killings in 1998, she said, and in all of them the perpetrators were active players of violent video games.

“People are not born this way. We create them,” Chapman said.

Linda Prier, a concerned citizen who has followed different kinds of therapies closely, supports the idea of art therapy.

“So much can get expressed through art and I’m intrigued how art can heal. I’ve gone to lectures where people look at art of children and analyze it,” she said. “But that didn’t seem a good way to heal someone.”

Chapman has many success stories, including a 2-year-old who was mauled by a neighbor’s dog and a 14-year-old who was the victim of gang violence. Her art therapy helped both of these victims overcome their violent pasts.

Although not currently a widespread practice, Chapman hopes art therapy will be used more in the future to help more adolescent trauma victims.

“I am currently writing a book to further this idea. I would guess it is 10 years ahead of clinical practice,” she said. “These things take a long time to get integrated into practice.”

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