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Here at Operation New Hope, one of the activities that our Ready4Work clients partake in is art therapy. Implementing art therapy sessions as part of our Ready4Work program helps us achieve our goals of improved mental health and reduced recidivism for people impacted by the criminal justice system. Studies show that arts education can help those struggling with issues of self-worth, confidence and empowerment. The arts can encourage a state of readiness to learn by increasing self-esteem and developing basic communication and other essential skills. Additionally, there is ample evidence to suggest that the artistic process can provide a safe and acceptable way to express, release, and deal with potentially destructive feelings such as anger and aggression.
At this weekly art therapy session, Ready4Work clients learned how to integrate art and storytelling to help build the skills they need to be successful. Amanda, the art therapy instructor, shared an analogy of luggage, what is going to help you, compared to baggage, things we carry from the past that we no longer need, to help clients to identify what is holding them back and what they need moving forward. The group also discussed what is important for them to be successful and what are some things they need to learn to let go of. Acknowledging that this is a process everyone should work on and we all have “baggage” we need to leave behind.
To help visualize this, the clients traced their hands and labeled each one for either “letting go” or “holding on”. This way they could put on paper what they need for the future and what should be left in the past. Some clients used colors and visuals for expression as a way to show what is truly significant for themselves.
Displaying artwork, prose, and poetry provides returning citizens with the opportunity to engage in productive exchanges with the community before and after release and helps demonstrate to themselves and to the public that they are more than a number and should not be defined solely by the act that brought them to incarceration.
We hope you join us in building a practice of checking in yourself to see what baggage you are carrying and what luggage you need moving forward.