L.A. Community Sites teacher Romina Bonilla shares how expressive arts therapy impacts her students.
Hardworking English Language Learners (ELLs) choose to courageously DREAM ON and work to reach aspirations such as reaching English fluency, even while family, friends, and neighbors roll their eyes back and sarcastically tell them, DREAM ON!
Five Keys in South Los Angeles’ Weber Community Center has partnered with HOPICS, an on-site housing and behavioral health resource center, to provide English language learners (ELLs) with an opportunity to participate in expressive arts therapy. Rather than the traditional form of mental and emotional healing through verbal discussions, expressive arts therapy focuses on the process of restoring psychological well-being through participation in hands-on art projects. Creativity becomes the pathway to exploring inner emotions and realizing self-discovery, as well as means of coping. But besides these sessions being therapeutic, they are also simply a fun release for adult students. Life is often so demanding that adults forget to practice self-care and take part in activities purely because it brings pleasure and joy.
ELL students explored and reflected on various aspects of their persona by creating hand-painted masks—the back of the mask represented their holistic true selves while the front of the mask symbolized the area of themselves they share with the world. They discussed their inabilities to express exactly how they feel. They pondered who they were as whole individuals. They spoke about who they pretend to be and taking part in social code-switching simply to meet societal and cultural expectations and avoid vulnerability and shame. “I don't tell anyone I come to ESL class because they ridicule me. They tell me I’m wasting my time because I’m too old. This side of me stays hidden. When people ask what I’m doing during the time my class takes place, I lie. I say I’m busy doing something more domesticated like cleaning or something. Silence brings me peace.” Through the process of their creations they became unmasked themselves.
A special thank you to the two wonderful people facilitating the art therapy--
Mayra Rivas and Syeda Jaffery
The Artists’ Reaction to Expressive Arts Therapy
“I liked working alongside my classmates. Time always flies when I’m in school, probably because I feel so comfortable with the therapists and my teacher.”
“I learned to express my feelings through creativity. I took pleasure in all the projects that included coloring especially. I gained a heart with less pain.”
“The mask project allowed me to become more aware. It taught me that other people see me differently than I see myself. I got to know myself better.”
“Painting reminds me of my childhood—like painting and coloring in elementary school. I used to own a beauty salon in Mexico. I did women’s make up. These mask-making sessions reminded me of when I used to do make-up. I loved it!”
“Expressive arts therapy made me forget about my problems and I felt at ease. It was all just beautiful to me.”
“Sometimes I arrive at school with a bad mood on my face and in my heart. Then, a few minutes after class begins, I listen and pay attention to the different topics we discuss and it really motivates me to use everything we learn in class, outside—from the grammar to everyday life topics. I save in my memory all the most powerful words of advice I hear and they make me feel like I can handle anything the world throws at me!”
“I really enjoyed the sessions. It was nice listening to others say that they go through similar things as me. I’m not alone.”
“I felt fortunate to be able to express my emotions. It has truly helped me reflect on my feelings.”