Person of the month
Can you express the inexpressible? - Attila Hegedűs and Viktória Belány, art therapy specialists of the „In The Same Breath” Foundation
The „In The Same Breath” Foundation, based in Pécs, offers help for the young living under state custody in group homes and in children’s homes, The sessions of music and bibliotherapy as well as the theatre shows and movement therapy events create an environment for the adolescents living without their parents, where they can find their own voice and make it heard in the course of a creative activity. The project entitled „In the Same Breath” is supported by MOL Child Healing Program.
With what kind of professional experience and background did you start your theatre therapy sessions?
Victoria: Our job needs quite special knowledge and skills. Being familiar with of addictology is a basic requirement in our foundation, as the children see all kinds of things from prostitution to drug problems. It is also important to be familiar with the adolescent youth and to be able to communicate with them in their language. Moreover, we also use the methods of art therapy. By the way, I qualified as a special education assistant and then went on to learn social pedagogy and addictology consultancy. Last year I graduated in literature therapy at the University of Pécs and this year I participate the 30-lesson creative-development course of fairy-tale therapy with Ildikó Bozsár.
Attila: All of us have worked in addiction care. I am a psychologist in a drug ambulance, and so in our art therapy group I can pretty well apply certain elements of the family-therapy methods used there. Besides, since 2003 I also work for the search program of „Party-Aid Service” in Pécs. I have been involved in psycho-drama for twenty years - this is also an important tool in my work. I lead the groups in cooperation with theatre-therapist Vince Miodragovits.
Is it necessary to know to some extent the children you work with when you start a therapy group in such a delicate and private situation?
Attila: So far the children have been sent from a children’s home, therefore we didn’t know anything about them. It was only in the course of the joint work that we could find out about the kind of wounds they experienced and carry. From now on we would like to have a preliminary interview with them before they join the group, so that not only us, but also they could decide what they are up to. Actually, not even an adult would be familiar with the notion and practice of theatre therapy sessions.
What is theatre therapy? How can these sessions help the young people struggling with addiction and living in a children’s home?
Victoria: In our experience the wounds of psychic origin, the scars on the soul are difficult to cure with cognitive methods, i.e. it is not enough to cure them by talking them away. In all cases you have to link an experience to them. In art therapy we can give the children such experiences: the joy of creation, movement and drawing. You cannot show new ways didactically to children so seriously wounded. It just does not work if I tell them: ”drug is evil!” Everybody wants to tell them what to do and they would just like to deal with their own problems. I myself have some idea about these difficulties as between 16 and 24 I also used to have drug problems.
In the bibliotherapy session you do not even specify whether the book in question should be classical literature or pulp fiction?
Victoria: In the musical bibliotherapy sessions we first establish the rules together in a playful manner. Then we select a book, which is not necessarily a piece of classical literature. If they bring rap lyrics, then we work with that. If I brought a poem by Radnóti with me, which previously had been thought them with didactic methods in a lesson, they would not be able to focus on it. Nothing is compulsory here, I just try to show ways and bring with me a tale which can be a path to focus and lead their attention. It they can get attuned then we can start talking about what this piece means for us, what it brings up in us.
In the theatre therapy sessions they have to be more active and have to participate with their whole body. Is it not too difficult for them?
Attila: Not necessarily. The business of teenagers is to revolt, to ask questions, to try their own limits, to find their peer groups. We provide for these teenagers living without their parents a protected peer environment, where they can spend their time with youth of the same age and struggling with similar problems as they do, they experience things together, and here they are not ridiculed. The biggest stake and use of this therapy is that through the tools of the theatre they can get closer to themselves, to their own feelings and they can freely express them without fear.
From where to where do you get by the end of a theatre therapy session?
Attila: Similarly to the dance and movement therapies, in the first few weeks we start out with body awareness work where we first try to express difficult situations - we don’t or can’t speak about - with movement and gestures. This body-awareness work helps to re-live and cure the experiences and traumas of early childhood. After this we start to build up our activities with voices, texts and lyrics. They do not learn these but rewrite them and create their own texts based on their experiences. Then they try to find the matching music, and this is how our common play is born in the end. The joint work slowly transforms them into a coherent group. The most exciting element is that they do not receive feedback just from us, but also from their group mates. Otherwise this fine tuning could not be achieved at all.
So far it might seem as if you were talking about a traditional drama pedagogy session, as anybody participating in it could have their own problems. But what makes this and singles it out as your theatre therapy?
Victoria: These children experienced that their parents – partly or totally – gave them up. They live in group homes or in children’s homes with their carers. Often they are not able to keep to the rules the system orders them and they escape. They don’t even know what kind of dangers they would have to face outside. In the worst cases they could even be sold abroad. We as specialists try to support them to be able to stay within the boundaries of the system’s structure.
Attila: With us it is not even a standard to be able to be quiet for three hours, or that the children should be able to focus their attention on a 10-minute exercise. At the outstart, at the beginning of the sessions everybody was immersed in their cell phones, as this was their escape – now everybody puts away their mobiles as soon as they enter our common space. If there is someone on the run and disappears from the group all the other children experience this absence. Sometimes somebody comes back from a break and joins us first. Then we have to speak about it, but usually it’s the group members themselves who indicate that this break does not fit in with our common goals. In the end we achieve an atmosphere where these children are able to listen to each-other and enjoy working together. This is the moment when we can spot the change.
Which period is the most difficult?
Attila: First it is always difficult to get the group started, but we are all aware of this. The critical period is the weeks around Christmas, when they don’t have a home to go back to. Actually, some of them have contact with their parents, but often the parent lives abroad and comes only once a year. Many of them have some memories of their parents; therefore they don’t experience their absence as being neglected by them. They always explain to themselves that these parents actually love them, as for instance their mother sent them a piece of chocolate two years ago. It is heart-rending when these children tell us that they still keep the chocolate paper. So the celebration for us was when they just dared to tell us about these contacts in the background.
(Photos: Ferenc Simicz (Viktória Belány); János Sasvári (Attila Hegedűs))