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Psychologist’s Blog: helping conflict-affected children in Eastern Ukraine overcome distress

Art therapy sessions in our Community Protection Centre in Mariupol, Donetsk region in Eastern Ukraine, welcome children with parents. Sometimes a psychologist has to work with the entire family in order to address certain problem of a child. It is critical that the support continues at home. A boy named Sasha[1] etched in my memory.

Sasha, 9, was brought to a session by his mother. She told that after her son had witnessed the shelling in Mariupol in January 2015, he became more attached to her and didn’t want to stay alone in a room. The boy retired into shell while trying to outwear this experience and cope with emotions caused by it.

When we started communicating, Sasha was chary of emotions and self-contained in interaction with other children. However, during the painting class he plunged into a process and managed to fully lay his emotions bare – it turned out that the child is scared when left alone anywhere. In addition to art therapy, we advised Sasha’s family to seek individual consultation of a psychologist.

First, it was critical to Sasha that his mom stays with him at a group art therapy session because her support empowered him. He was afraid to act on his own and defend his opinion in a group. But the joint work with his mom yielded fruit – at the second session, the boy stopped seeking advice from his mom as he became more independent – he even started to get with other children by himself.

The principal outcome of working with Sasha for me is that we managed to restore the boy’s confidence in the world as he regained self-assurance and started trusting himself and the others. Now he enjoys communicating with other children in the Community Protection Centre – they invent fairy tales and draw paintings together.

Seeing the condition of her son improved, the mom also turned happier which positively affects emotional wellbeing of the child. I am extremely glad that they came to the Community Protection Centre and we managed to provide support.

Natalia Akrytova is a child psychologist, she works at one of 16 UNICEF-supported Community Protection Centres. Natalia delivers trainings to children, runs a parents’ club and provides individual psychological consultations for children and families to heal emotional traumas caused by the conflict.

Psychologists of the Community Protection Centre in Mariupol deliver a group art therapy session: when children work in groups, they benefit from emotional support while being busy with fun activities and start thinking big.

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