Arts Interventions for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse -‘Speaking the Unspeakable’ and the Importance of Safety as a ‘Vector Catalyst’.
Friday 27th February 2015
Dr Meekums presented findings from more than twenty years of research concerning the recovery process following child sexual abuse. The original research concerned an arts therapies intervention for women within an NHS adult mental health service, all of whom had been sexually abused in childhood and suffered a range of mental health symptoms. One of her key findings related to the importance of what she calls the ‘vector catalyst’ of psychological safety. At the time, very little was known about why some people get better with therapy and others not only fail to improve, but deteriorate.
Dr Meekums employed a narrative method, identifying key stories concerning recovery including its failures and successes, eventually generating a model which shows recovery as a dynamic, spiralic process. Particular attention was paid to the metaphors used by her research participants, which evocatively describe this process. Her research showed that, when people feel psychologically safe they are able to access arts therapies, whereas non-safety both within the arts therapies and within the mental health system is experienced as the presence of something bad, leading to mental state deterioration. However, when psychological safety is established, she found that arts therapies offered a way to ‘speak the unspeakable’ and work through important issues.
The model has been refined over the past two decades, in conversations with survivors and with practitioners of other modalities. This lecture will describe the research process and key findings illustrated with quotations from participants, and identify ways in which the knowledge generated by this research can be used to benefit practitioners and their clients.