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Artistic inspiration for brave girls

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Drawing from experience: art therapist Richelle Richards is launching Brave Girls Academy, a five-week online empowerment programme for girls between 9 and 14 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

At 46, Richelle Richards still remembers just how tough it was to be a teenager. The challenge came in trying to explore what she liked while also fitting in with her friends.Ultimately, she gave up the struggle.“I realised I needed to be true to myself and follow what I wanted for myself,” she said.Ms Richards does not feel much has changed decades on. Today’s girls are confused by the gender messages they get from magazines, by social media and even their friend circles.To counter all that, she created Brave Girls Academy. The five-week online empowerment programme for girls between 9 and 14, will launch this summer. “Brave Girls Academy is one of those programmes that is everything I wish I had when I was growing up,” she said. “I am having so much fun putting it together. The girls involved in it will have a lot of fun.”She is an art therapist and has drawn on those skills to create exercises to get girls thinking about self-confidence, courage and setting boundaries. The programme also offers a workbook and art materials. It will run two mornings a week, with the girls led through everything from yoga to art and creative writing. There is also one-on-one time with Ms Richards, who will deliver weekly art supplies to each child.“Sometimes they might want to talk to me personally about something outside of the group,” she said. In January she set up Children, Adolescent and Family Art Therapy Services Bermuda. The business is designed to help families and individuals work through trauma related to a range of issues including sexual abuse, bullying, divorce and unhealthy relationships. Ms Richards believes art has a way of helping put people at ease, which helps them to better share their concerns.“A lot of the trauma that children experience is related to what’s going on in the family,” she said.Although she pointed out that remote learning has brought a number of patients suffering from cyberbullying to her door. She urged parents to be more vigilant about what apps their children were using and who they were using them to socialise with.Ms Richards became interested in art therapy while a student at Kean University in New Jersey. She followed up with a master’s degree in art therapy at the University of Derby in England. “I have had experience in different areas such as adult and teen drug misuse recovery in the UK and here with the Nelson Bascome Substance Abuse Treatment Centre,” she said.“I’ve had experience in the UK, working in schools specifically with behavioural challenges units and I’ve had experience in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, where I worked in a juvenile correctional institution for boys ages 14 to 18.”She taught art on her return to Bermuda, but after a class with life coach Gayneté Edwards last year, she decided it was time to set up the business she had always dreamt of. “It was now or never,” said Ms Richards, who was surprised to discover the number of misconceptions people had about art therapy. One is that any art teacher or artist can do it.“That’s not true,” she said. “It takes training.”She is licensed under the British medical system and is a member of the British Art Therapy Association.• Brave Girls Academy will run from June 30 to July 28 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. BF&M covers the $179-a-week cost for its subscribers. For more information on Children, Adolescent and Family Art Therapy Services Bermuda, visit cafbermuda.com

Master’s degree: Richelle Richards studied in the US and England (Photograph supplied)