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Visual Study of a Refugee: A Case Study Open Access

Objective: Art therapy can provide an opportunity to present personal narratives with consideration to cultural standards of expression. Through the tools of image and narrative presented through art therapy, it is possible to capture a glimpse of the experience of a refugee. Method: A qualitative case study explored the experience of a group of siblings in a metropolitan area. Over two sessions, they used images and words to share their unique experience of the refugee journey through the use of a visual journal. Participants were provided with semi-structured prompts and a wide array of art materials which included fluid materials such as paint and oil pastels to restrictive materials of colored pencils and markers. The freedom in both art materials and directives allowed for a range of responses. Findings: Participants were able to share their journey to the United States and acclimation to their new society. Visual journals included themes of spontaneous disclosure of trauma, spirituality as a source of resiliency, cultural family dynamics, as well as acculturation process. Acculturation was affirmed in the blend of Syrian icons as well as American holiday symbols. The values of a collectivist culture emerged as strengths that allowed for orientation towards the future. Implications: This case study demonstrated the utility of art therapy for refugees to share their experiences in a culturally responsive manner. The participants displayed a range of disclosure through creative expression and the containment of a visual journal. Art therapy can reduce cultural stigma around seeking therapeutic services within the refugee population. The shortage of refugee accounts using a trauma informed approach demonstrates the increased need for additional research and direct therapeutic services such as art therapy.

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