Using Art Therapy to Address Bullying
Safran and Safran (2008) note that victims of bullying can benefit from opportunities to express themselves in a safe, creative way. In particular, art expression offers opportunities to communicate and explore more deep-seated feelings about being bullied, emotions that may not be addressed in school-based anti-bullying programs. Fear, worry, confusion, and rage toward the perpetrator and some well-meaning teachers and counselors who fail to protect the victim may emerge in a drawing or collage before articulated with words.
Safran and Safran recommend individual and/or group art therapy for bullying victims; they emphasize that drawing can be one way to eventually explore self-image, perceptions of bullies, and a trauma narrative. The latter is particularly important with those children who can benefit from telling their stories and sharing their images with either the helping professional (Malchiodi, 2001) or with peers who may be able to empathize with the victim.
Collage is another medium I frequently use with older children and adolescents. To begin any collage activity, do some preparation work by collecting colored paper and many magazines; pre-cut a variety of images from the magazines to put into a “picture collage” box (Malchiodi, 2006). Be sure to include a wide range of images of people, environments, objects, and phrases/text and of course, remember to ensure that cultural diversity in present in these magazine photos. Avoid just handing out magazines to your client or group; pre-cutting the images will prevent your young clients from wasting time flipping through magazines rather than engaging in the activity of creating a collage.
At this point, many helping professionals often say, “create a collage that represents bullying and/or the victims of bullying.” That’s a relevant directive, but try to think about the topic of bullying more globally and create and use themes strategically. When working with adolescents, I like to use this directive—“create a collage that represents what the feelings of powerful and powerless mean to you.” If I am working with a group, I might initiate a short discussion about these two feelings and give them some options for how to construct the collages. I sometime suggest that, “you can fold your paper in half and put the images of powerful on one side and images of powerless on the other. Or, if you want to, you can mix them up in any way that you like.” For this activity, I generally supply 12 by 18 inch colored construction paper or poster board, glue sticks or white, non-toxic school glue, and scissors if appropriate.
After everyone finishes creating the collages, let each present their pictures to the group. Have each participant talk about at least one image in his or her collage that represents “powerful” and one that was chosen to show “powerless.” Depending on how the discussion unfolds, participants may want to share their own experiences with bullies, including whether they have been the targets of bullying (powerless) or been a bully (powerful). Encourage further exploration of how one can be powerful when confronted with bullying and other aspects of powerful-powerless dynamics.
There are many, many variations to this activity; what is important is that you consider your group’s needs and adapt this activity to meet those needs. If you missed the two previous blogs on bullying, see Bullying 101 and What is Relational Bullying for more information; remember TLC has an excellent online course on bullying and cyber-bullying, too. Next up: More creative interventions to help children and adolescents address bullying.
Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC
Malchiodi, C. (2001). Using drawing as intervention with traumatized children. Trauma and Loss: Research and Intervention, 1(1), 21-28. See National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children website for a copy of this article.
Malchiodi, C. (2006). The art therapy sourcebook. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Safran, D., & Safran, E. (2008). Creative approaches to minimize the traumatic impact of bullying behavior. In C. Malchiodi (Ed.), Creative interventions with traumatized children (pp. 132-166). New York: Guilford Press.
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