Creative Arts Therapies for Refugees and Survivors
Seeking Refuge: The Heart and the Art of Healing for Survivors of Violence and War
I am writing this as I listen to the non-stop roar of fireworks on the 4th of July—Independence Day in the United States. Independence is a term that is often associated with freedom. Yet while many Americans celebrate freedom, many who come to the U.S. as asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants do not know freedom from fear. The June 26th decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to partially lift lower court-ordered blocks against the travel ban threatens those who hope to join their family members who are already resettled here.
Amnesty International’s Executive Director Margaret Huang said, “Rather than keeping anyone safe, this ban demonizes millions of innocent people and creates anxiety and instability for people who want to visit a relative, work, study, return to the country they call home, or just travel without fear.” For refugees and asylum seekers, these inhumane policies threaten to undermine any sense of relative safety. A sense of belonging—a birthright for each and every one of us—is hardly possible when the environment is laced with intolerance, disrespect, and fear.
I believe it is now more essential than ever that those of us working therapeutically with immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers find ways to connect that are culturally and contextually congruent. The arts have long been a universal voice for all aspects of human experience. The majority of the world is socio-centric, where more collective and integrative healing processes are commonplace. Rituals, rites of passage, celebrations, and communal gatherings often use creative processes and practices such as dance, drumming, music, storytelling, and art to support and invite healing, grieving, celebration, mourning, acknowledgement, and humanity. The creative arts provide a pathway that may be more familiar and safely engaging to our global community members who are displaced by violence and persecution.
The arts offer us avenues to give voice to a broad range of human experience—from the most unspeakable horror to the most celebrated joy—in ways that no other form of communication can. With the number of refugees and those displaced by human cruelty and environmental change steadily increasing, and the search for a place to land becoming more difficult and hostile, we need more imaginative and creative ways to connect across the seemingly pronounced divides of race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, gender, and socio-economic status. We need the connection, compassion, and creativity that the creative arts—the heart of our humanity—uniquely offer.