“Trauma is most accurately defined as a wide range of sensory experiences, which can cause fear, insecurity or terror in children regardless of their culture. Symptoms of trauma or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) only define the ways the child’s brain, body, emotions and behavioral systems are struggling to survive. Provide new, positive and nurturing experiences and symptoms of trauma diminish.” --Dr. W. Steele, National Institute of Trauma & Loss in Children
Most of the children accepted into the CCPCR Shelters have experienced trauma to some degree. Whether their case involved domestic violence, neglect, forced labor, extreme poverty or sexual abuse, these negative experiences can affect the child’s psychology and emotions by causing them to have violent tendencies towards others, difficulty overcoming fears and battered self-image, and a disconnect with social values that regard parents as caregivers and protectors, and children as worthy of love and nurturing. It’s common for a traumatized child to feel sick with stomach problems and headaches, to have nightmares, trouble remembering, difficulty following instructions, and difficulty trusting other people. They often have very low self-esteem, feel hopeless, and unmotivated to try hard or look forward to their futures.
An excellent way to relieve trauma related stress and to build emotional resilience is through expressive art therapies aimed at fostering connections, continuity, dignity and opportunities. Research has shown that repetition of such sensory interventions will bring positive change.
Project Manager Ann Soldner is a certified Trauma and Grief Counselor and the recipient of TLC’s “Trauma Consultant Supervisor of the Year 2013 Award”. Rotating through a variety of expressive art therapies aimed at trauma recovery and resilience building, Ann leads group therapy sessions twice a week for the 50 resident girls and young women at CCPCR’s Phnom Penh Thmey shelter. The classes include a variety of arts and crafts projects, learning new songs and dances, rhythm and relaxation exercises, games, music, story-telling, drama, and LOTS of love and laughter! The girls benefit greatly by these regular times to relax, de-stress, express themselves creatively, explore emotions, share ideas and enjoy each other’s friendship and camaraderie.
Sensory interventions are the deliberate use of art, music, play, and drama to address psychological and emotional needs. They use the creative process to help in areas such as, fostering self-expression, enhancing coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening a sense of self-worth and dignity. The creative process involved in artistic self-expression and play helps children to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and achieve insight.
Overcoming trauma and building resilience provides increased ability to develop literacy and numeracy skills. Self- confidence and emotional strength are boosted. Improved resilience opens the door for the girls to find secure alternative employment, thus increasing their chances of living a dignified life away from vulnerabilities.