The Value of Art Therapy in Healing from Intergenerational Issues Caused by Aboriginal Residential Schools

by Audrey Ward 

There is a legacy of abused and neglected children in First Nations communities resulting from what amounts to ongoing attempted cultural genocide by the Provincial and Federal Governments of Canada. My thesis is that the use of art is helpful in assisting clients to identify and work through issues, which are a direct result of 123 years of enforced, mandatory attendance at Indian residential schools. Although the last of these residential institutions closed in 1984, a number of factors that I observe in my practice continue to contribute significantly to generational issues among subsequent generations. Some of these are: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from chronic physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse. There is currently no commonly agreed upon definition of the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the therapeutic literature as yet. However, I have developed a working definition of my own which appears in the Introduction for use in my work and this thesis.

I have used Mala Bentensky's Phenomenlogical approach to art thearpy for the case study in this thesis. The files and art were reviewed using a retrospective approach (Schaverien, 1995) to assess the applicability to my thesis question - is art therapy useful in identifying and addressing the impact of chronic stress caused by residential school? Using this approach allowed unconscious material to become conscious; issues were identified and articulated and finally, new helping strategies were incorporated into the clients' lives.