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The therapeutic power of art

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Art has a way of breaking down barriers, and helping people to emotionally detoxify.

That is one of the reasons Teen Services decided to add an art therapy component to their summer camp, Precious Gems, this year.

Richelle Richards, who is currently studying art therapy at Derby University in the United Kingdom, is leading the art portion of Precious Gems. The camp is designed to empower young girls aged 11 to 14.

“Sometimes with trauma it inhibits the way people talk about things,” she said. “Trauma is located on the same side of the brain as creativity. Whatever is stored from that incident will come out in a creative form.”

This week the girls worked on making masks to build their self-esteem.

“We started with affirmations,” said Ms Richards. “They wrote down good things about themselves and then put them onto a mask. The mask will be something they will take with them. It is not finished today. As they go the mask will change with them. It is something they can hold on to. This is to help motivate them, keep them strong and empowered. They talked about the affirmations and what they might look like.”

She found a lot of the campers struggled to say good things about themselves or other people, so they talked about the difference between being confident and being conceited. Ms Richards made a mask along with the campers.

“You have to mirror the behaviour you want,” she said. “It is not really about the product, but about the process. Whatever comes out of the process we look at how to relate that to their lives.”

This is the second year that Teen Services has run Precious Gems and several campers are returnees.

“We were looking for something to make the camp a bit different from last year for the girls who were doing it for a second time,” said activities coordinator Nina Jones.

“The mission is to inspire and empower young girls to recognise their true value,” said Michelle Wade, executive director of Teen Services. “Last year we created this programme as a pilot for a future, more comprehensive one for young girls. We received a donation to do a girls' leadership/empowerment programme so we are able to host it once again.”

Ms Richards taught art in the school system for seven years, before deciding to go back to university to study art therapy. Ms Richards first heard about art therapy as an undergraduate student. Later, while working in the classroom, she found that many young people had issues.

“There are always a lot of disruptions in class,” she said. “There is always something behind their behaviour. Sometimes children don't have the words to say what they want to say. The art really helps. Art is a way of breaking down barriers and helping people to feel comfortable.”

When she finishes university she hopes to return to Bermuda and work with children touched by the recent gun violence in the community.

“Those children are definitely dealing with a lot,” she said.

Art therapists are trained to “read” paintings and drawings for signs of psychological problems or difficulties.

“Certain things that come up in a drawing might flag possible sexual abuse,” she said. “Personality disorders show up as well. I might ask a child to draw a person picking an apple out of a tree. Out of that you find a lot of information. You look at how they draw the tree. You look at how big they are in relation to the tree. How many apples are there on the tree? If the tree is loaded with apples it could be a sign of addiction in the family. You sit down and talk with the child about their work and find out what is going on.”

She has just finished an internship working in addiction recovery.

Ms Richards said she often turns to art to relax and “preserve her own sanity”. She is known for her paintings of blue people, and she has had one exhibition at Rock Island Coffee.

Girls at Precious Gems do art therapy in the morning and then another activity in the afternoon, such as bowling or a trip on the glass bottom boat.

For more information about Precious Gems, call Teen Services at 292-4598.

A camper writes affirmative messages during an art class at Precious Gems summer camp. (Photo by Glenn Tucker)
Campers enjoy reading each other's positive messages as part of an art class at Precious Gems summer camp. (Photo by Glenn tucker)
Art teacher Richelle Richardson, who is studying art therapy in university, talks with a camper at Precious Gems summer camp ( Photo by Glenn tucker)
Students enjoy art as part of the Precious Gems summer camp at Teen Haven. The camp aims to raise the self esteem and self worth of young girls. ( Photo by Glenn tucker)

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Published August 27, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm)

The therapeutic power of art

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