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Using Art Therapy with Survivors of Domestic Violence
by Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC,

Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, Certified Trauma Consultant



Editor's Note from Karen Adler: In this article, art therapist, Gretchen Miller, provides an overview of her work with women and children who have been exposed to and traumatised by domestic violence. A video and presentation provide additional information of Gretchen's work.

Domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of abusive behaviors -- including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion -- used by one intimate partner against another (adult  or  adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship” (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women). Abusers use a variety of controlling and battering tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner. For a victim of domestic violence, often the impact the abuse is too difficult to verbalize through words alone and impacted by strong feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, and fear around speaking about the abuse (Malchiodi & Miller, 2011).

Art therapy is a way to assist survivors to safely express and contain these difficult and terrorizing feelings, cope with traumatic memories and triggers, as well as support emotional stabilization and strengthen a sense of safety. As an art therapist working in a domestic violence shelter with women and children exposed to and traumatized by family violence, I have witnessed the benefits, value, and power of art therapy to help provide a voice to survivors and begin on a path towards healing and recovery free of abuse, violence, and control. Through art-making, survivors can make sense of and find their way out of chaos, frightful memories, and the raw emotion of their abuse to discover a sense of grounding, strength, safety, understanding, and hope. Art therapy helps provide an empowering outlet for this process, where the telling of a battered women’s experience does not have to be spoken aloud, but can be communicated through the language and reflection of art expression.

This short video was created with art expressions by survivors and advocates to raise awareness and share their stories about domestic violence:




You can also learn more about group art therapy strategies and interventions for youth exposed to domestic violence through this presentation on SlideShare: www.slideshare.net/gretchenmilleratrbc/group-art-therapy-interventions-strategies- working-with-children-exposed-to-domestic-violence.

This presentation highlights themes and considerations important to focus on when working with children and adolescents impacted by family violence and using art in trauma intervention. Art interventions addressing safety, promoting emotional expression, validating the experience, normalizing trauma reactions, strengthening coping, and managing traumatic stress are all important to consider.



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About the Author

Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, CTC is a Registered Board Certified Art Therapist and Certified Trauma Consultant who practices in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area in the United States. Her work specializes in children, adolescents, women, and families impacted by trauma, domestic violence, and grief & loss. Her website www.gretchen-miller.com highlights her work, interests, and passions related to art therapy and her creative practice.










Malchiodi, C. & Miller G. (2011). Domestic Violence and Art Therapy. In C. Malchiodi (Ed), Handbook of Art Therapy (2nd Edition), New York: Guilford Press.




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