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Umasking the pain

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Masks and other art objects made by particpants in an art support group at Harmony Place are shown. Artist Lisa Morgan has introduced the art program for victims of abuse at the women’s shelter in Front Royal. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Lisa Morgan is an artist who has discovered a mission for herself in helping victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse work through the pain and grief of their experiences.

Her work was recently honored with a statewide award by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance for an innovative art program she founded and operates at Harmony Place. More important than the award is the satisfaction found in watching victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse find new ways to express their feelings.

"It's been fantastic," Morgan said. "We've had an overwhelmingly good response to the program from the clients and staff."

Under the guidance of Morgan and others on the Harmony Place staff, members of support groups choose art projects that allow them to express feelings through a variety of mediums and forms.

"Clients love it when they come in and see art supplies on the table. Their faces light up," Morgan said.

Some of their work jars Morgan as she watches it take form and views the finished product.

As one set of examples, she lays out on a table a collection of masks -- plain, unadorned, plastic masks when they were purchased from a store. In the hands of a victim of domestic abuse, the masks were transformed into gripping expressions of sorrow and pain.

One is covered with profanity, the kind commonly directed at victims of abuse. Another has bandages taped to the forehead.

"They get a little hard to look at sometimes," Morgan said of some of the projects. "They do some very profound work."

The field of domestic abuse and sexual violence is commonly thought of as a field where victims find comfort by talking about their feelings with a counselor. But words often fail to convey what victims are feeling, and art projects can be more helpful in filling the emotional void, Morgan said.

"Everybody interprets the experience in different ways, Morgan said. "It's amazing watching a person and seeing what their thought process is."

Morgan estimates 150 to 200 support group members have participated in the program since she started it four years ago. As an artist herself, Morgan foresaw the possibilities of having Harmony Place clients work on a variety of different projects under someone trained in using art as therapy.

With financial support from her agency's board of directors, Morgan traveled to Southern California to receive training from A Window Between Worlds, a nonprofit organization that shows how art therapy can help survivors of domestic violence.

Melissa A. DeDomenico-Payne, executive director of Harmony Place, said art therapy remains unusual in the field of anti-domestic violence programs. Most funding comes from private donors and other charitable sources, she said.

"While we consider this critical, it's not something that's necessarily recognized as critical by the state and federal government. It's not typical at all," DeDomenico-Payne said.
Art therapy is a regular part of Harmony Place's support group program offered to victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

Sessions for domestic violence survivors are scheduled on Tuesdays from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. Sessions for survivors of sexual violence are available on Thursdays from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. Those wishing to participate should call 635-9194 at least a few hours in advance.

1 Comment

I think this is an Awsome program.

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