The effects of sexual assault and family violence can be long-term and far-reaching.  Some of these can be difficulties in developing and maintaining strong, happy and healthy relationships between parents and children.    TOTEM brings parents and children who had been affected by abuse into the art room to have fun and create together.  

It introduces families to different ways of creating art together.  And through painting and clay work, working on individual as well as group projects they find ways to create, play, co-operate and enjoy each other’s company.

TOTEM gives parents and children creative, emotional, and social experiences to limit the negative impact of abuse and develop a positive future for the family. It provides the safe space for participants to explore, express and manage feelings, and to learn and practice ways of interacting with each other that nurture and strengthen family relationships. It is also very useful for both parents and children to interact with others in a similar situation, where they can share with others who are in a similar situation.



To successfully create using clay the new potter needs to learn a few fundamental steps. The first is about joining pieces of clay together so the join will withstand the construction, then firing, of the work. The second  is knowing the right amount of pressure to apply when working on a piece, “gentle and firm” is my mantra.   Both these steps eventually become an intuitive skill but at first they need to be taught then practiced.

Makers become very attached to their artwork.  Beginners can easily lose heart if their work breaks or if they can’t manage to create anything that looks reasonably good. This is especially so for those who have struggled with other aspects of their lives and are already feeling incompetent or worthless.     I believe it is crucial to teach participants so they can put their efforts into their creativity rather than let them struggle with techniques that can learn relatively quickly and easily.

Nonetheless, there are frustrations involved – some of the children in the group found making the coil pot very difficult.   Most did not have any previous clay experience  and found it difficult to join the coils and keep some sort of control over the shape of their pot.   There was definitely feelings of FLUSTRATION on that day!   Persistence pays off, and with a little help, by the end of the session all were happily proud of their efforts.

Not surprisingly, the following week when we created these cheeky faces, all were much more confident in working with this material.   The  lessons from the previous week  – rolling the clay,  joining it, and applying the rule “gentle and firm” meant participants had confidence to be adventurous and creative.   It is  great fun to play with facial features, exaggerate them and be a bit naughty as you can see from the poking-out tongues!   This project lends itself to trying out new textures as well as to start a conversation about feelings.

At the end of each session we gather the group together to look at all the work that was made that day,  and to share some  responses to it and to being in the group that afternoon.   We spend a few moments jotting down  words to help participants identify and express their feelings.  You can get a sense of what is valuable to them from these examples; not only is the creative side of the project important, so too are feelings that emerge, such as calming, relaxing, happy etc.

The pots were painted and glazed in time for the last session so we could share a meal using them.   Natasha, the SECASA counsellor who supported this group, is a wonderful cook and made some delicious soup and fruit salad which was even more delicious when eaten from these gorgeous bowls.  Nurturing participants’ creativity and their recovery is the main aim of TOTEM and other groups at SECASA – and so is nurturing the body.  The delicious and nutritious snacks she provided for the group encourages survivors of abuse and their families to care for themselves.


 Comments from participants :


What did you like most about this group :  

“Making things and learning”

“The gentle approach by Anne as we students are all in a very sensitive place.  Plus having Natasha there for support was great”

“Art, learning art skills”

“Friendly relaxed and honest people”

“Learning and making new unique designs”


What did you like least about the group:

“Nothing.  I liked everything”


“It went for a bit too long for some kids”


Other Comments :

“I’d love to repeat another art group here, given the chance”

“Please run these classes again”

“Thanks for having us – we liked doing things together”

“We met new people and that was nice.”

“Yes, if we had more weeks to attend we could have become a closer group – able to learn more skills from Anne plus the parents could have supported each other more.”




see TOTEM 2013 about an earlier,  longer art project for parents and children.