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Art Therapy Center Pioneers Group for Divorced Families

 New York Creative Art Therapists are starting a divoerce-themed group.
Art Therapy Williamsburg
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WILLIAMSBURG — New York Creative Arts Therapists, the only group practice in the city devoted to using the arts in all their counseling, is pioneering a new group for children dealing with their parents' divorces, after clients repeatedly requested help with the rocky transition.

Despite divorce's prevalence in contemporary America, the change "shatters" a kid's concept of family and spurs a whole host of reactions, from guilt to rebellion, said art therapist Lisette Soini.

"Children really communicate in other ways than just verbally," said Soini, whose first divorce-themed group starts this week with kids 7 — 10 years old at the Williamsburg clinic on North 10th Street.

And the center's director Drena Fagen noted that the new divorce-focused program also included sessions for parents, who might feel shy in a traditional group therapy but could reveal as much or little as they liked through the art activities in each session. After making a painting, drawing or other piece, participants in the kid and adult groups would have the option to speak about their choices.

"It gives people an opportunity to have both privacy and community. In traditional talk therapy you either talk or you don't, but art making gives you these degrees [of sharing]," said Fagen, noting that her 8-year-old practice served many clients in creative fields but could serve anyone. "You can have your own experience making something and be sharing that experience in a group."

The new group's specific focus also instantly helps kids overcome feelings of isolation by realizing other families are also undergoing divorces, said Fagen, who has a masters in social work from NYU and a masters in art therapy from Pratt.

"It immediately universalizes their experience...so they don't feel alone," said Fagen, noting that the group sessions ($35 per session) were also far less expensive than an individual appointment ($150 or $200).

New York Creative Art Therapists — a full-time clinic which first served only adults but expanded to include children as clients requested services for their kids — is launching its new group with a four-session pilot program this summer, but Fagen and Soini are confident the program will continue. 

Soini (who also has a masters degrees in social work) said a single art therapy session could bring empowerment, insight and a tangible comfort to the children.

In the pillow activity, for example, a kid might draw his feelings before and after his parents' divorce, write a "secret message" from someone he loved and sew it inside the middle, and put a pocket on the outside to hold a picture of his mother or father when he was at the other parent's home.

"You can sleep with it and take it to Dad or Mom's house, so it's a transitional object," she said of a comfort item that helps kids feel safe in unfamiliar situations. Meanwhile the photo might prompt discussions in the parents' group of "fostering the child's relationship with the other parent."

And Fagen said the program would bring a "safe space" to children at a vulnerable, hectic time.

"It's for kids to have a place where they can wrestle with these paradoxical and dialectical feelings," Fagen said. "The goal is to make things less confusing."