Art Therapy and Resilience with IID

Creativity is key to survival and growth when faced with life’s adversities. This is a core belief of many theories including those at the heart of Resilience and Art Therapy.

Nadia De Backer is a fine arts graduate trained in art therapy at L’ATELIER in Geneva, Switzerland. She has lead creative workshops at the Innocence in Danger Resilience Retreat in Switzerland for several years. In this article she shares her insights on the processes of resilience and creativity at play during the retreats. 

Creativity is key to survival and growth when faced with life’s adversities. This is a core belief of many theories including those at the heart of Resilience and Art Therapy.

Art Therapy harnesses creativity and relationships to facilitate personal transformation. It fosters an intimate dialogue between people and their artistic expression.

I have hosted Art Therapy workshops for children, teens and parents at the Innocence in Danger Resilience Summer Camps in Switzerland for several years. Our adventure begins by collectively creating a large scale painting. This gears the participants towards colour, gesture and motif. They connect with themselves in a new way, becoming artists and co-authors of a work that flows from them onto the paper.

During their stay the participants can choose from a variety of workshops such as Visual Arts, Creating With Nature, Sound, Writing and Stage. They draw on these creative resources to transform their work right up until the last festive evening.

The workshops do not require pre-requisite skills. They are a safe space for expression and exploration from start to finish – however they do offer the possibility of learning new techniques along the way.

The workshops also aim to promote kindness within the group. Participants are encouraged to acknowledge each others feelings regardless of the artistic value of their productions. The workshops are not about proving resilience but about having a happy creative experience. There is no pressure as to where that experience may lead.

Children sometimes create alongside parents who become co-authors or facilitators; this multi-generational and multi-family make-up of the group can hold potential resources for the children such as feelings of security, it might offer a space free of judgement, foster mutual assistance and/or friendship.

Participants are not invited to talk about the violence they have suffered, even so it might happen that these pains surface in the imagination of the individuals or the group. This might show in expressions of fear, anxiety or avoidance for example. This may need to be addressed using words.

A healthy child is curious about materials, colours, smells and sounds and may want to shape these in their own way. Their work will speak to their parents and to the group, showing the child in a positive light by revealing their potential. The child is able to exercise control over the world contending with both its limits and its possibilities. At its best the process offers the child the experience of control within a cycle of implementation ; going from idea or concept to reality. The child can look back on this experience and see themselves as the author of this transformation – and so the child is able to envisage the possibility of inner transformation. The child gains agency and confidence through this process.

This growing confidence can be measured. The child might demonstrate a willingness to open up emotionally or show a growing sense of calm. They might become attached to the work they made, or show attachment to those he/she shares his/her work with. They might talk of wanting to return to the Summer Camp the following year, express gratitude towards others or even manifest an interest in continuing to explore their work beyond the Workshops.

Creative and spontaneous, children, like teens and adults, create images, invent characters, play with sounds, set the stage for games, dance, tell stories, explore recipes and see materials everywhere in nature.

Through form and and symbols, children will face their inner conflicts and come to terms with their life experiences without the need to be explicit. It sometimes serves them better if the process remains implicit. When trauma has interfered with growth, children need to be supported as they travel to the heart of their work to gain confidence, dignity and resilience.

I am committed to welcoming the children, adolescents, parents and members of the Innocence in Danger team who join this adventure, full of promise, relationships and creative experiences. I am grateful to them for sharing their immense life experiences, and their unique ways of being in the world.

Nadia De Backer


Boris Cyrulnik « Mourir de dire » Odile Jacob, 2010, Paris

Azucena Chavez, Gerard Lopez « Les séjours de résilience d’Innocence en Danger » Revue francophone de victimologie, oct. 2016

Jacques Stitelmann « Créer pour vivre – in Chemins de Résilience » HUG, Genève, 2006, pp. 121-128

Jean-Pierre Klein « Comment traiter sans violence l’enfant violenté » in Sexologos n°29, nov.2007

Jean-Pierre Klein  « La création comme processus thérapeutique » in L’information psychiatrique n°1, janv. 1991, pp.10-16