From June 22nd – 25th 2016 I attended an advanced training that educated social workers on the effects of traumatic experiences and on the possibilities of trauma-informed multimodal arts-based interventions. I wouldn’t have been able to attend the training if it wasn’t for Michael from First Aid Arts who organized three scholarships for me and my co-workers at HOME. This is a thank-you-write-up. Thank you so much! The First Aid Arts training was eye-opening and life-changing.
I started working with refugees in September 2015 when Vienna’s Westbahnhof was overrun by tens of thousands of people fleeing from unbearable circumstances into safe Europe. So far my work has focused on teenagers from Syria and Afghanistan. Having studied German, naturally I gave German lessons. But my main task was to check-in with people and offer my help in whatever way they needed it. I always felt that I kind of knew what I was doing. Kind of. But it never felt really safe.
When HOME, the society I work with, was offered three scholarships for the Healing Arts Training conducted by First Aid Arts in Vienna during four consecutive days I immediately know that this was what I needed.
During the first day the trainers Ruth and Matt asked us to write a personal and a professional aim for the training on a post-it in order to review it at the end of each day. I wrote “feeling more safe during working with refugees and with groups” on the personal and “being a secure, calm and empowering facilitator for the groups I work with” on the professional post-it. What I had experienced during those nights at the overrun train stations had lost some of its weight, but had never really left: a feeling of an overwhelming necessity to help combined with the pressing wish to help and the evident notion of not knowing how. Hence – overextension.
The First Aid Arts training relived me from this overextension and provided me with very helpful knowledge on trauma and art-therapeutic interventions. Ruth and Matt were great trainers. They embodied ‘leading by example’ perfectly. The memory of how they opened and closed sessions, lead activities and discussions and how they ‘gave space’ while facilitating our group of 40 might be the greatest gift I got out of the training. Reminding myself of this safe, peaceful and open atmosphere should serve as a vital resource for my future work.
Additionally, Ruth and Matt pointed out the difference between art therapy and what we were being trained for: arts-based therapeutic interventions. To me, it’s very important to have a label for what I’m doing. I’ll be using the Healing Arts toolkit in two ways. Everything I learned from the training, may it be from direct knowledge transfer (PowerPoint presentations) on the subjects of trauma and suggested activities or from the different talks I had with other trainees, will influence how I open and close workshops that I host at the #openschoool. Moreover, I intent to offer a weekly meeting for a small group of refugee minors that follows the suggested toolkit.
Coming to an end, I’d like to express my gratitude for the emphasis the training put on self-care. Ruth and Matt continuously invited us to engage in self-care. They did so throughout the sessions, reminded us in closing up the day and asked us each morning about what we had done the previous day to take care of ourselves and refill our containers of energy. It felt liberatingly good to feel the freedom to take care of oneself at any time when needed.
Finally, I’d like to thank the donor of my Scholarship emphatically. I was able to create substantial awareness of the symptoms and effects of traumatic experiences and built up an expertise in how to use the same spaces that are or can be effected as resources in order to assist self-healing.
Having said all that, to me personally it was very important to have something relatable to answer my cynical-critical inner voice.
“So you heal trauma with arts now? What are you, a shaman?“
No. I facilitate groups of people that feel like they are not in a good place and want to work on it in order to feel better. I am not a healer.
„And you know what’s best for everyone?”
I am not a therapist. I am a facilitator. I am welcoming, nice and offering. I’m not telling anyone what to do or how to do it. I’m inviting my group to be nice to themselves and to each other. Clear and reassuring as daylight.