Natural Disasters can create a sense of helplessness in all of us. Especially people who work in the professions trained to offer assistance in times of crisis and trauma. After the 2019 Black Summer bushfires, ANZACATA (Australia New Zealand and Asian Creative Art Therapy Association) hosted a workshop by Dr Carla Van Laar for art therapists who were keen to learn ways to offer assistance to those impacted by the trauma of natural disasters.

Entitled Art Therapy First Aid, Carla shaped the workshop around the principles of psychological first aid being a sense of safety, calming, a sense of self and community efficacy, connectedness, and hope.  She also drew on her personal experience working with earthquake victims in Nepal. She then called on the combined creative wisdom of the participants to design small group activities around one of the principles for a ‘drop-in’ style service in an evacuation centre.

My group focused on a “sense of safety” and designed an activity called safety boxes. Miniature safe places that a person could keep in a handbag or glovebox or backpack as a reminder or anchor to the sense of safety. I recently found mine again. When I showed a friend, she said how ironic to be based on a matchbox after bushfires, something that had escaped me when we created the activity.

We decorated the outside of the box and then placed words and objects inside. My word was hope. The button represented a person who helped me feel safe. I also created a mini worry doll from a peg and wool for the other box. Beads, buttons, ribbons, twine were used to imagine concepts of safety.

I have placed my boxes on my desk again as a reminder of my resilience, the power of collaboration, the wonder of imagination and creativity and the joy of always learning from others.

If you want to learn more about working with people affected by natural disasters, Carla generously posted an interactive video on her website from the workshop held in Geelong. Enjoy.

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