WMC Foundation and Helping Services Support Victims of Abuse with Artful Healing

Guest Post by Mary Marx, WMC Foundation

Last November, the Winneshiek Medical Center Foundation was fortunate enough to award five grants to local groups or agencies working to serve the mental health needs in our community. The grants were part of WMC’s Commemorative Fund for Community Mental Health and were raised with the purpose of giving back to the community around an identified need.

Helping Services was one grant recipient for their project titled “Artful Healing.” Kathleen Davis, director of the Domestic Abuse Resource Center, says,

“Artful Healing uses art therapy to help clients confront anxiety, stress, and trauma that can often accompany being in an abusive situation. In our seven-county service area, the Resource Center has six staff and many volunteers who have assisted 188 clients in the past six months, so that averages at least one new client each day. Artful Healing is an effective therapy for victims of abuse, and we are fortunate that, with help from the WMC Foundation, we are able to offer it. Other agencies around the state wish they could offer this program to their clients.”

According to the Iowa Art Therapy Association, art therapy facilitates healing through the use of simple art materials. The client is encouraged to express and explore strengths, emotions, thoughts, and problems while making art. Artful Healing is led by Decorah registered art therapist, Karen Misseldine, ATR, MA.

The grant project is two-fold: the first component was training for Helping Services advocates/staff. “It was important for staff to experience a few group sessions to help them understand the program prior to offering it to a client. We were also able to address staff’s personal mental health to help them work through compassion fatigue and any vicarious trauma they may experience through their line of work,” says Karen. Kathleen adds, “Advocacy burn-out is not something that is widely discussed in our field, and we were fortunate Karen recognized this need. We are better able to serve our clients if we are well ourselves.”

The second component to the grant is serving clients who are a good fit for the program. Advocates for Helping Services identify clients who are ready to receive therapy, and connects them with Karen. Karen provides 4-6 sessions of individual therapy, and then gathers her clients into a small group for therapy. Karen says,

“The art that clients create is not meant to be beautiful. It is meant to be an in-the-moment expression of self. I emphasize the process of art making and listen to the verbal communication around that art process while gently guiding individuals in strengthening self-image and insight.

Clients begin with varying expectations of art therapy, but find it to be soothing and meaningful. Many clients with a history of abuse have significant anxiety. I help them ‘make friends’ with their anxiety instead of pushing it away into a dark place where it can unexpectedly surface and take them by surprise. Art expression and creativity play an important role in helping individuals develop healthy ways to tolerate distress and pain while building on strengths and resilience. I notice physical relaxation in my clients and observe them break through personal barriers so true healing can begin.”

Holly Kanengieter, coordinator of the WMC Foundation, says, “Artful Healing is a truly unique project that we were hoping would create meaningful work around mental health. Last year’s Commemorative Fund for Community Mental Health, and the subsequent grant awards, celebrated the hospital’s centennial year by reaching out to community partners and supporting current health care needs in our community. The Foundation is delighted that donations to the fund are making a positive impact on the lives of people in our community in such a meaningful way.”

Artful Healing is appropriate for anyone who has experienced an abusive relationship any time in their life. Sessions are completely confidential and available through Helping Services at no charge to the client. For information on Artful Healing, or to connect to the Domestic Abuse Resource Center, call 1-800-383-2988. To learn more about or donate to the WMC Foundation, visit www.winmedical.org/giving or call 563-387-3129.

Registered Art Therapist Karen Misseldine, ATR, MA, displays an example of a doll clients make to express the anxiety, stress and trauma that can often accompany an abusive situation.  Karen leads Artful Healing, a therapy program for victims of domestic abuse, in conjunction with the Domestic Abuse Resource Center.  Artful Healing is funded by a grant from the Winneshiek Medical Center Foundation.

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