Alastair McIver looks at how therapeutic arts can help in the recovery and restoration of survivors of domestic violence.
Whatever we think about the current situation we find ourselves in, we cannot deny that Covid-19 has affected each and every one of us in numerous, different ways.
Whether we have contracted the virus or not, no one has been immune from its impact. Many reading this will know of someone who has been lost to it, or who has lost a livelihood and doesn’t know how they will cope financially or socially. Some have lost everything. As I write, deaths from Covid-19 are still escalating.
All of us have had to change our lifestyles as a result of coronavirus and no one can really say – as we look out of the windows of our homes – that the world doesn’t look a little different today than it did before the virus erupted in our midst. Most of us reading this will be looking forward to the day when lockdown is ended, and we can go about our daily lives once again.
For one particular group, however, a group comprising 1.6 million women, there is not much to look forward to. For this sizeable part of the population, the issue is not so much about what they can see of the outside world as they look out of their windows, more about what is going on behind closed doors! What does the future hold for them, I wonder?
The impact on women who suffer from abuse which happens in the home will already have triggered ongoing trauma, and their journeys to restoration and healing is likely to be long, painful and slow.
Integrative Counsellor and Dance Movement Psychotherapist, Kate Snowden explains,
Domestic violence always impacts the whole person and the psychological, emotional, sexual, relational and sometimes physical scars remain far beyond the exposure to the violence. Many women experience significant symptoms of PTSD and struggle to build healthy relationships having been stuck in the cycle of abuse, sometimes for years. The trauma can cross the generations as children grow up having witnessed violent behaviour as ‘normal’. This impacts their ability to relate in healthy ways and often results in them identifying as the abuser or the victim themselves.”
For those in the current cycle of abuse, their personal journeys to restoration and healing will only begin once charities that specialise in recovery practices – and there aren’t that many of them – can re-enter the safe houses which host fleeing women.
News of this highly unwelcome but perhaps unsurprising bi-product of lockdown came early. Towards the end of March, Beverley Hughes, Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, said,
I think we are beginning to see a rise in domestic abuse incidents. We anticipated this might happen in the very stressful circumstances that many families find themselves in.”
She went on to say that increased reports of abuse were linked to the lockdown and said that the authorities were preparing for serious incidents.
Unfortunately, but maybe inevitably, her statement was followed by press releases from other police forces around the country reporting similar increases.
Covid-19 would be frightening enough, you would think, without this additional blight within our society.
Thankfully, the media latched on to this social epidemic early on and this prompted a swift response from the UK government which announced the #YouAreNotAlone campaign.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, remarked at the time,
…as we come together as a nation to fight this virus, it is important we do not close our eyes to the threats other people, particularly, women, are facing.”
Domestic abuse in the home is not a new phenomenon, of course. But lockdown hasn’t helped the authorities and charities in their fight against its debilitating consequences.
Interestingly, prior to Covid-19, the numbers of cases of domestic abuse were declining, in this country at least, seemingly a breakthrough for those who so often suffer in silence.
That does not make the numbers any less palatable, however. Every statistic is a precious person made in God’s image. 1.6 million of these ‘statistics’ are women!
In all, family tensions between warring couples resulted in nearly two and a half million adults experiencing the horrors of domestic abuse in the year leading to March 2019. It’s a sobering statistic.
Of course, for the victims of domestic abuse, the impact is not that immediate, or visible. Practical help is all very well, and welcome, but it is going to take more than a roof over their heads and a bed for the night to restore confidence and dignity to each individual and support them back into society.
I wonder how we as individuals, or in the church, can respond to this situation. Indeed, is the church even equipped to embrace such anger, pain and trauma, and bring the love of Jesus into what seems likely to become a surge in victims of domestic abuse? Can she really be the hands and feet of Jesus in such circumstances?
These are big enough questions for government and charitable organisations, let alone the church, but few have the answers, especially when it comes to post-rescue rehabilitation work.
Many agencies are outstanding in their first responses – but longer term compassionate, empathetic, individual, restorative healing is a long haul. Without the right support network in place, it can take a lifetime.
One Christian charity, Talitha Arts, has been addressing the ‘what happens next?’ question for traumatised women for several years. Their therapeutically trained, arts practitioners have been visiting safe houses and hostels, serving women in recovery for nearly a decade. They use the arts as a central part of the recovery programme for survivors of domestic violence and other abuses. The charity’s therapeutic arts’ programmes have seen women face their situations head on, using the creative arts – painting, drawing, writing, movement, dance and drama – to help them express that which they cannot easily articulate with words alone.
One survivor of domestic violence is Euleen. She shared her story (with permission) with us.
Euleen was rescued from an abusive, violent, 10 year relationship from a man who she had known from childhood. Over time, she discovered that he wanted to control her choices, her life. This conflict led to violence, something she had to escape from. Once rescued, she encountered Talitha Arts in the hostel where she was housed.
They made me realise that I can make my own choices,” said Euleen. “We did art, as well as exercises, things like learning how to breathe, and all these things I did helped me to understand myself and be more confident. Talitha made me take out my power drill and go deep down. I worry about people who haven’t got the support that I had.”
Talitha’s founder, actress Amanda Root, believes in the creative arts as being a primary way to support and help women find healing from trauma. She says:
We have found that a person-centred approach and the use of arts in all of its forms has been a proven way to benefit those who have experienced trauma in their lives. At Talitha, we use the combined abilities of professional actors and artists with the skills of arts therapists, and we create workshops that are very accessible, very safe, but also dynamic and hugely relational. We have seen trauma survivors respond in extraordinary ways to our approach.”
So what happens next, I wonder, when the pandemic is brought under control? The government can only do so much, and has done a lot, but I wonder if there is a part that we can play in this. Whatever our own creative gifts, could we maybe seek God’s will and desire for the benefit of those silent sufferers who need to find a way to express their deep inner pain, so that the healing process can begin?
The creative arts are once again finding their voice in the UK church, thankfully. Perhaps now is the time for the church to start to explore new ways of using them, not just for worship or fellowship activities but to aid healing. Therapeutic arts have long been established as proven ways to aid the restoration of mental health and bring healing to those who are suffering from trauma. If anything good can come out of this virus, it might well be the realisation that creative release within the church can bring healing to the trauma table.
The need is great. By the look of things, domestic abuse and the like is not going to go away any time soon. The question is, can the church respond and is it up for the challenge?
‘Creatives in Action’ was first published in Woman Alive magazine, June 2020