Art as a powerful channel for communication and healing


Much of the recent research work conducted by Professor Sophia Law, of Lingnan’s Department of Visual Studies, has focused on art as image writing – in other words, art as a language written in images.


The suffering experienced by children who have been through some form of trauma, or of adults afflicted with a disease such as dementia, is often exacerbated by an inability to communicate. The words, whether written or spoken, needed to express feelings may not come easily, or at all, and sometimes even the feelings themselves may seem inaccessible.


Professor LAW Suk-mun, Sophia


However, those experiencing this sort of pain and these sorts of frustrations are often able to physically manifest their emotions, and the workings of their unconscious mind, through the creation of art. They can use imagery - a more direct form than words – for the construction, articulation, and expression of their thoughts and feelings. Having spent 18 years working as a nurse, before completing a PhD in Art History, Professor Law has a rare perspective on this approach.


Two of her current projects concern the ways in which the therapeutic use of art can help young trauma victims. Art as intervention in serving secondary child victims of family  violence, is a three-year project, which began in 2017 and is funded by the Drs Richard Charles & Esther Yewpick Lee Charitable Foundation. While, Art as intervention in serving child victims of family violence – a parent/child art therapy approach, is a one-year project, conducted in collaboration with the Tuen Mun Integrated Family Centre (Social Welfare Department), and funded by the Jean Ho Family Foundation.  


In these practical studies, professional art therapists work with small groups of children who have suffered abuse. At least two social workers are always present for the two-hour sessions held once a week. After every session, Professor Law’s research assistant’s observations of each child's performance, along with a digital record of their work, is discussed by all the professionals involved.


The way the children express themselves - whether it’s by scribbling, tearing the paper they’re given, or whatever – doesn’t matter, as the first step in learning how to regulate their emotions comes from letting their feelings out, especially any negative ones. From the digital record of their artwork, the children also get to choose which pieces to include in a journal. After the programme has finished, this journal will serve as a reminder of both the experience they’ve had of being valued and cared for, and of their creative capabilities.


The social workers taking part in this project are encouraged to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues, as a significant proportion of any abuse cases they are handling may well concern children who have difficulties expressing themselves.


Professor Law is also keen to see an increase in the number of other professionals working in this field. She is therefore delighted that more than 10 per cent of past participants on the credit-bearing Art and Wellbeing course she developed for Lingnan’s Office of Service-Learning in 2009, have gone on to work in related careers, including as art therapists and art facilitators.


To know more about Professor Sophia Law's research projects, please click Lingnan Scholars.