Exciting and nerve wracking : joining a survivors’ art group

Starting any new group is usually very exciting as well as nerve-wracking for survivors.

Before we start an art group at SECASA (South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, Melbourne) I try to meet up with all the participants – mainly to have a chat about the group and discover what they hope to get out of coming. I also like to hear about any creative activities participants have done, or have not done but would like to do. This time we spend together is helpful in getting to know each other a little so that it is not quite so scary for a new participant to join the art group.

Over the years that I have been meeting participants before an art group starts I have noticed a few themes emerging. I thought it might be helpful to note some down, so that if you are a survivor of sexual or family abuse, you can see that the art group could be a place for you.

Most of the women in the group love the idea of being creative. But many think they are likely to be “hopeless” or “no good” or a “failure” at it. This loss of self-confidence is one of long-term consequences of abuse.

But at the same time, I often see a little spark of self-belief and many have told me that they think they could be an artist, or get good at art if they were taught. Nearly everyone tells me that they would like to make something they could feel proud of, to learn something new and get good enough to make something lovely for their homes. We take time to teach skills in art-making to fan this spark.

When I show the SECASA calendar I hear “oohhs and ahhs” about how beautiful the work is but of course “I could never do that”.   New participants are really inspired when they learn that most of the work in the calendar has been made by people who, like themselves, were saying the same things at the start of their art group.

SECASA Mosaic wall

download the 2015 calendar here SECASA 2015 Calendar


Many are lonely and isolated.   This is another constant consequence of abuse.   People who have been hurt by others often prefer stay away from any potential to be hurt again … but this can mean they are lonely. One of the great comforts of being part of a SECASA group is knowing that there are other people in the group who have had a similar experience and will understand how she feels.

We focus our attention on art making – rather than talking – and many participants are really pleased to be able to do just something creative alongside other people. After a while conversations open up and friendly exchanges happen between group members at a gentle pace.

The art groups are a place where participants can learn to create, learn to relax in company, share and enjoy the company of others.   We always start slowly and gently with a small project like these mosaic trivets (for putting hot things onto the table) and mirrors which are in progress.