SVA Art Therapy Exchange Program in NYC- MercyFirst

Last Saturday, the SVA MPS art therapy students were fortunate enough to be able to visit MercyFirst, a treatment center in Long Island, and participate in a workshop with some of the adolescents residing there. MercyFirst uses a trauma informed approach through the sanctuary model in working with the adolescents, which aims to increase their sensory tolerance, regulates their affect and impulses, increases emotional expression, and constructs the trauma narrative in visual, tacilte, and sensory ways through art therapy.

Because trauma robs youth of experiencing joy, an objective of art therapy is to restore some of that ability. Art can help restore feelings of pleasure and bring youth together. Creating murals has been a large part of this quest. As the students learned about the day before as well, murals do an excellent job bringing a community together and helping the youth feeling empowered.

With the adolescents of the START program, the students participated in a workshop. The adolescents of the START program are unaccompanied minors who have been through a lot of dangerous and scary situations. Art therapy aims to create a safe space for them connect, heal, and create. During the workshop, three stations were offered: creating Hope Stones, Gratitude Banners, or drawing a piece that represents yourself. While almost the entirety of the adolescents drew the whole time, having the other options enabled the adolescents to be autonomous and choose what they felt comfortable doing. Working with these boys was an eye-opening experience that showed art and simply sitting next to someone creates communication entirely different from verbal communication.

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