ICYMI: How Art Therapy is Helping Children Raised in Poverty

(Photo credit: idreamlikecrazy/flickr)

Ninety-four percent of patients at Drexel’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services have been exposed to one or more childhood traumas, according to a survey conducted by the center.

A recent feature story in the Philadelphia Inquirer put a human face on the statistic. It profiles Xavier Johnson, 12, and his brother, DeShawn, 9. Both live in a North Philadelphia public-housing project that is surrounded by violence and drug dealing.

The boys find solace in an art therapy program run out of the 11th Street health center through a collaboration with Spring Garden School. Now in its second year, the program uses a “trauma-informed” approach that targets children living with severe stressors who may not necessarily seek out behavioral health care, faculty from the College of Nursing and Health Professions explain in the story.

From the Inquirer:

It’s one of many ways health-care providers are starting to work under the assumption that virtually all children in poor neighborhoods are growing up with trauma, and that even small interventions could transform the outlook not just for the child, but for the whole family.

The 11th Street health center, which opened in North Philadelphia in 1996, recently doubled its size to about 34,000 square feet, adding space for art, dance, and music therapies. From its primary-care offices to its dental practice, pharmacy, fitness center, and teaching kitchen, the entire center works from this “trauma-informed” care model.

“Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ we ask, ‘What happened to you?’ ” said Patty Gerrity, director of the center and an associate dean at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. “We just assume everyone’s been traumatized, and we don’t want to retraumatize them.”

The story struck a chord with readers: It’s been shared nearly 6,000 times on Facebook, and was picked up by dozens of media outlets, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Miami Herald, the Fresno Bee and the Connecticut Post.

The 11th Street health center is continuing to find the best ways to implement trauma-informed care into its practices and gathering evidence to back up those methods. The Center for Health Care Strategies recently awarded the center with a grant to participate in a multi-site initiative to do just that. With the funding, 11th Street plans to develop an integrated health care model throughout the center, which focuses on treating a patient’s mind, body and spirit – not just the disease. Staff members will participate in monthly workshops to learn more mind-body methods, and mindfulness practices will be added to the center’s clinical settings.

Gerrity, the center’s director, is hopeful that the initiative will help its providers better serve more children like Xavier and DeShawn, along with their family members.

For media inquiries, contact Lauren Ingeno at lingeno@drexel.edu or 215.895.2614.

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