Real lives











June 2006, Art Therapy – A new tool to help traumatized children in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF/KIRA/Dubanaev
Counselling sessions provide children with an opportunity to invent stories, draw pictures and play games – activities designed to help them overcome trauma and pain.

Children from 16 residential care institutions and rehabilitation centres in Kyrgyzstan who suffered from abuse or violence – as well as children with special needs – will soon experience the benefits of art therapy in helping them to overcome major stress and trauma, thanks to UNICEF-supported training for child psychologists. Helen Woolley, known for her extensive expertise in working with traumatized children worldwide and specifically in Kyrgyzstan conducted the training.

“We are hanging on every word of our trainer because it is one of few sources on practical of art therapy,” says Indira Matamarova, a child psychologist charged with helping children from three residential institutions reunite with their biological or extended families. According to Matamarova, “Art therapy is not just drawing sessions, we have learned several techniques using water, sands, plasticine, dough and other materials. But most importantly, we studied a programme that allows us to adopt therapy games to the needs of a particular child and invent new ones if necessary.” 

In Kyrgyzstan, art therapy is not included in university curriculum and therefore its techniques have not been duly deployed.  Representatives of two local universities who took part in the workshop received 10 books on art therapy which they are going to use in developing of a special course for students of psychology in future.

This week, the participants go back with a three kilogram bag of supplies. They are going to practice new games on their relatives first to make sure that they feel confident to apply them to traumatized children.

In a few months, UNICEF, together with the Kyrgyz Russian Slavonic University, will help these and other professional psychologists to further improve their knowledge and skills in summer school.

Ms. Woolley has been working in Kyrgyzstan for some years already and knows some of the challenges that her trainees face. “There is lack of information. If the participants need clarification or advice, they do not have anybody to turn to. Secondly, it is a managerial and supervisory challenge. Children’s institutions are often understaffed. Art therapy requires time and safe space to be effective and not to harm children.  The participants were enthusiastic, creative and interested in the practical application of art therapy, particularly to help children with loss and changes in their life. However, without on-going support they will lose the confidence they gained this week.”
Unfortunately, more and more children are abandoned in Kyrgyzstan. The number of state-administered institutions – and the number of children that reside in them – has doubled since 1991. More than 82 per cent of children in these institutions have one surviving parent and/or an extended family. Today, some 6,347 children reside in 62 various institutions, which include by definition boarding schools and homes for children who struggle with developmental delays and disabilities. The rise in the number of children living and working on the streets has also added to the number of children living in institutional settings,  although accurate figures on their numbers are not available because there is no official agency to register them.

Supporting the development of professionals who work with children is an essential element of UNICEF-supported child protection programmes. Additionally, UNICEF provides support to the Government on critical matters of reform within its the national child protection system, lending expertise in the development of new Standards of Care for Residential Institutions and a Manual on Foster Care, which seeks to ensure that every child can realize the right to live with his or her family or in a family-like environment. The Government, with UNICEF’s support, plans to develop and implement other national policies and strategies to foster social inclusion and child poverty reduction. The country’s overall goal of reform of its national child protection system is slated for completion by 2010.

On this occasion UNICEF Kyrgyzstan expresses deepest gratitude to UK National Committee for UNICEF and its Special Representative Mr. Ralph Fiennes for supporting these and many other activities under Child protection programme in Kyrgyzstan



 Email this article

unite for children