Art as Therapy: Using an Open Art Studio Format to Empower Youth Who Have Experienced Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Art is a powerful tool to facilitate healing for individuals who have experienced trauma including commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) (Block & Harris, 2011). Over the last 7 years a yearly Youth Empowerment Conference run by the CSEC divisions of Los Angeles County probation and DCFS departments assists over 50 youth per year. During this event there are three creative workshops dance, spoken word and art. The Art Workshop is co-lead by a survivor leader and myself. Through several dynamic creative art activities, we have helped create a place for these youth to find their voice, hope and creativity at this yearly conference. This program is set up as a three-day workshop wherein an open studio format is used (Block & Harris, 2011). The individuals participate in group projects and individual projects with the option to present them at the end of the event. Throughout we discuss the importance of boundaries and what to share with others vs what we want to keep private. This model allows the participant to have a stronger sense of control, build identity outside of their victim/survivor label and create a safe place for exploration.


Dana Wyss Ph.D., LMFT, ATR-BC

Director of Training , Star View Adolescent Center