Thriving Creatively: the promise of art for healing

Last month, we launched our first run of THRiVE – a psychosocial training program in expressive arts-based approaches to healing and learning in the classroom.  This program is an opportunity for us to create and hold the space for educators to rediscover and be themselves through the ageless method of and tools for expression: art and creativity.

Training educators as people

We started the 4-day intensive standing in a circle, feet hip-width apart, arms stretched out and palms open on either side of us. This moment taught me the power of a standing being. I looked around at our circle. We had come together as 33 educators, coordinators, managers, community builders; but in that moment we were 33 people who were right where they needed to be, 33 stories to be told. The gravity of this collective presence was enough to build us up, a mountain beneath our feet.

To give these individuals space in this way was very important for lead facilitator and MAGIS Director Gina Alfonso. “Each of us has the right to be here. Each of us has a place in this circle and a reason for being here now.” she said.  With so many different journeys that led to the one moment, it was crucial to establish a sense of safety and belonging at the very beginning.   At THRiVE, educators learn to improve the way they work by improving their sense of self, first.

Trauma-informed practice

MAGIS developed THRiVE – Trauma-informed Healing and Resilience-building in Vulnerable Environments – with trauma in mind. Considering it in the broadest sense of the word, the activities over the 4-day intensive addressed both shared community and personal trauma, toxic stress, and the need for resilience. Through arts-based activities, the psychology of play, and individual and communal mindfulness practice, the group learned how to improve their professional work not only by being informed by the science behind the practice of the arts for psychosocial interventions in the classroom, but also by the experience of taking care of themselves first – the same way they take such thoughtful care of the students and colleagues they work with.

One participant described the experience as a realization of the blessings despite issues and everyday challenges. Through activities designed with self-awareness and mindfulness, there was also an element of healing. “I am able to say that I am healed and free from the heavy feelings I was carrying because of my own perception, thinking, and doing,” she said.

Mind the brain

The storytelling, self-awareness, and self-care practice doesn’t end with arts-based activities. From our year-old partnership with Mindworks self-awareness for us as their technology provides a detailed portrait of our brains: brain maps.  Mindworks uses EEG technology to depict brainwave activity, which can accurately show the current state of brain, and which neurotherapists analyze to inform customized programs for improving brain function and mental agility. The brain maps alone, along with interviews about them, provide a wealth of insight into the impact of personal history on how we think, our natural inclinations, and areas we can improve. This greatly helped participants of THRiVE to understand their strengths, their needs, and how they can better work together in their chosen professions.  Most importantly, knowing their needs helped them create their own plans for a self-care practice.

Creative souls

Bambi, one of the co-facilitators of THRiVE and Assistant Director for Community Relations, said the experience for her brought her to deeper appreciation of the arts as a vehicle of self-discovery and healing. Kathy, our Managing Director and a participant of the program, described it as life-changing.  Working behind the scenes, I was moved by the creative fluidity in the program’s facilitation: it was alive, responding to emergent needs of the participants.

Whichever side of experience, we all witnessed people heal, learn, and thrive through the arts. Visual art was a self-made, embodied mirror that someone may have been introduced to for the first time. “I didn’t even know I could do this,” one participant said in surprise. The a-ha moments were resounding by the end of the program. Movement and music gave life new rhythm, whether shared or individual.  Even the thoughtful selection of symbols was a creative experience in itself, giving new meaning to everyday objects around us.

We are deeply grateful for the vibrant participation of the inspiring educators of both The Learning Child School and Cartwheel Foundation, Inc.‘s partner Indigenous communities. We have learned as much, if not more, from each of you.

We also thank our friends at Cartwheel who co-facilitated this program with us.


Were you part of this program? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

To learn more about THRiVE, or to express interest in organizing it for a group, contact us.

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