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After only two months, Kasey VanderPol’s program, aimed at creating therapeutic art for survivors of sexual or domestic violence, already has a waiting list till January of 2020.

VanderPol — an advocate stationed at the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center — located a few blocks from the UW Tacoma campus, began the Survivor Wellness Art Circle as a way to reach out to victims of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and domestic violence. Small groups of six to eight people, typically women, join together to create art as a form of processing and expressing the impact they experience from the abuse they faced.

“As someone who experienced abuse in the past, I’ve found art to be a cathartic way to process trauma and I wanted to share this with the individuals I serve,” said VanderPol.

VanderPol provides the group with a prompt or a project to create. For instance, during the October session, artists painted two sides of one mask as a way of expressing how their experiences made them feel, and what they showed to the world. These sessions are funded by the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, and all the supplies for the art projects are provided for participants.

“No previous art experience is necessary to join as there is no right or wrong way to create art,” explained VanderPol. “During Art Circle, I provide ideas to help get creativity flowing, but it’s completely up to each person how they choose to approach the project.”

With increased success with the program, VanderPol is hoping to be able to expand to having more sessions. It is important to her to maintain the small groups, as she feels it allows all of the members to have a space to share and support each other. However, she hopes to be able to grow the program into meeting twice a month or more. This will allow her to reach more survivors, while still maintaining the integrity and closeness that the small-group format provides.

When asked about how art therapy may differ from more common or traditional forms of therapy, VanderPol explained the benefits.

“I definitely think that traditional talk therapy is still super important and a lot of people can get a lot of benefits out of that,” said VanderPol. “But there’s actually more and more research that’s coming to light that doing creative work especially actually activates different parts of your brain that traditional group therapy wouldn’t. And so it’s a way that people can actually explore and express really traumatic emotions but not in a way that’s going to re-truamatize them. It’s a way that you can visually represent things that might otherwise be hard to talk about or put in words.”

VanderPol also emphasized the importance of creating a support system as a survivor of abuse.

“[A]nother part of going through an abusive relationship [or] an assault is that you feel really isolated and you don’t really have that social support piece, so I think that’s another really big benefit,” she explained.

The art project also serves as a way of empowering these survivors, by giving them a way to accomplish something. VanderPol hopes also that creating the art gives survivors a sense of self and purpose they may have lost.

“You’re actually creating something, [and] with a lot of victims of violence, they’ve felt like they’ve had their boundaries taken away from them,” said VanderPol. “They’ve been told over and over that they’re helpless, they’re not worth anything, that they can’t do anything. So by creating something that they can actually look at and actually have and take with them, I think that just helps to really instill a better sense of self back into them.”

Though the demand for the class is high, and the waiting list is growing, VanderPol encourages those interested in participating to call the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center help line at 253-789-4166. The art circle is held on the first Wednesday of every month from 1–3:00 p.m..

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