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Teaching artists as agents for resilience building


Art can be used to heal.

This was the overarching message of the event “Artists Plus Trauma-Informed Practice for Youth”. The event brought together teaching artists and professionals from the behavioral health field to discuss how trauma-informed practice can be used to build resilience and encourage healing through use of the arts.

Teaching artists from all over the city – ranging from poets to photographers to painters – came to learn about the science of ACEs and trauma from founder of the Sanctuary Model, Dr. Sandra Bloom.

Following her presentation, the group of about 70 broke into smaller groups to discuss either further specifics about trauma-informed care or how to use trauma-sensitive practice in arts programs. In a group facilitated by Dr. Sandy Bloom and Michal O’Bryan, teaching artists and behavioral health professionals discussed the romanticization of pain and how they can work to break down the celebration of violence in our culture.

“You can achieve your dreams and still not be healthy.”

Teaching artists from Philadelphia Young Playwrights led a separate discussion about trauma-sensitive facilitation of arts programs, where topics ranged from understanding how trauma manifests with different age groups of youth to how to provide support for staff experiencing secondary trauma.

Then came the fun part. We broke into groups of about 20 and participated in arts activities.

One was facilitated by ArtWell, an organization that supports young people through arts education and creative reflection. In this activity, we made collages about our lives – portraying our life journeys along a timeline. We then shared about our timeline in a safe space facilitated by two teaching artists. They explained that they typically use this activity with youth to explore the idea of identity and to learn about how to discuss art.

Philadelphia Young Playwrights led a separate group through an activity that used pictures of scenes between people as prompts for investigating how we perceive emotions of others, and how these perceptions in turn affect our own emotions. After a brief discussion, the teaching artists gave examples of ‘brain breaks’ that can help keep students engaged in an activity by temporarily shifting focus, and finished with a brief scene-writing exercise where participants imagined the stories behind the scenes in the pictures they used before.

The arts can be a powerful tool in promoting resilience and self-efficacy. In providing education to teaching artists about the impact of ACEs and trauma, we can empower them to foster healing among youth.

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