Abu Dhabi conference explores how art therapy can help recover from trauma, abuse

Apart from the conference, there were workshops and an exhibition featuring about 100 artworks created by survivors of trafficking, violence and abuse


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Wed 18 Oct 2023, 2:32 PM

Art therapy is a powerful tool in the recovery process from violence, trauma and abuse, and can improve mental health, emotional well-being and personal growth, top experts said during a two-day event in Abu Dhabi.

The region’s first-ever Art Therapy Conference themed ‘Empowering through Creativity’ focused on art’s transformative influence on trauma, and its therapeutic potential.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Center for Sheltering and Humanitarian Care – Ewaa, an affiliate of the Department of Community Development (DCD), the event united leading experts who highlighted the far-reaching applications of art therapy, techniques, and strategies in addressing various forms of trauma. Apart from the conference, there were workshops and an exhibition featuring about 100 artworks created by survivors of trafficking, violence and abuse.

“Art has been a fundamental form of human expression throughout the ages, surpassing cultural boundaries, languages, and backgrounds,” Sarah Shuhail, Director-General of Ewaa, said.

“In its many forms, it has the remarkable ability to convey emotions, experiences, and narratives that words alone often fail to capture. As the founder and supporter of this conference, I am deeply honoured to emphasise Ewaa’s steadfast commitment to creating a profound impact through the therapeutic potential of art.”

Sarah Shuhail
Sarah Shuhail

Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of DCD; Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi; Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Hanif Al Qasim, a board member of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD); and Shaista Asif, cofounder and group COO of Pure Health, attended the conference.

Delving into the journey of art therapy in the GCC and highlighting the challenges in its development, Dr Awad Alyami from King Saud University, Riyadh, said: “The concept of art as therapy is as old as human expression. The Arabian Peninsula is no different from other cultures in using art for healing and wellbeing prior to ideological enlightenment.”

Carol Hammal, a distinguished expert from Egypt presented a programme developed for women exposed to violence.

“Over 70 per cent of adults report exposure to trauma in 24 countries according to a World Mental Health Survey initiative. Hence, we introduced a four-day intensive art therapy intervention that combines both existential and psychodynamic approaches. Art is used as a process to understand emotions, address and externalise trauma then achieve resilience,” she noted.

Meanwhile, Chris Storm, a sensorimotor art therapy specialist, highlighted how sensory stimulation through art-making processes using hands could enhance contact and connection with oneself, providing self-nurturing and relaxation.

“Sensorimotor art therapy has emerged in recent years as a term to describe body-focused psychotherapies that use a bottom-up approach. It encourages the awareness of the implicit felt sense; how the muscles and viscera, the heart rate and breath shape our sense of being. With this heightened awareness of the embodied self, as you touch the clay, for example, it touches you. As you move your body, it moves you. Motor impulses and their sensory feedback define the core relationship of ourselves with the world,” Storm underlined. “We can support Sensory Stimulation through any art-making process with the hands. It enhances contact and connection with oneself and provides self-nurturing. For example, the sensory connection with clay provides soothing support.”


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