TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Section VS 1 The multitude of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques: From Theory to Practice
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair:
Birgit Fritz (University of Vienna), Matthias Thonhauser (Art in Progress/Austria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

English | Русский

The Potential of the Methods of Art Therapy
in Educational Work with Desadapted Children

Zhyldyz Zhekshenovna Omusheva (Kyrgyz Republic) [BIO]


The problem of social orphanage is one the most pressing problems in the Kyrgyz Republic now. Most of those who live in children’s homes are social orphans, i.e. children whose parents are deprived of their parental rights, serve a term of imprisonment, or have waived their children. There is also a problem of latent social orphanage, the roots of which lie in sharp deterioration of the financial position of a family and dissolution of moral principles which result in changes of the attitude towards children who become virtually homeless then.

Children-orphans, social orphans and latent social orphans make a risk group; children from incomplete families often fall into this group, too. For successful socialization of these children, it is important to teach and raise every child to have his/her own personality, prepare him/her for independent life and teach him/her a profession. This requires considerable material and financial resources, which is insufficient in general. However, the problem of orphanage becomes aggravated so rapidly that its ignorance may have an impact on social security of the country in the nearest future. That is why it is so important to change the attitude of the society in regard to the problem of orphanage.

The problem of orphanage is getting even more aggravated and pressing, since the number of children-orphans is growing steadily. According to multiple researches in this area, deviations in behavior of children result from political, social, and economic instability of the society, from the strengthening influence of pseudo-culture, from changing the content of the frame of reference (i.e. value system) of the youth, from adverse family and household relationships, the lack of control over their behavior, excessive busyness of parents, and the grow in the number of divorces(1).

A modern family is concerned with its own survival and mostly cares for satisfying its basic vital needs only, and it is not able to meet the increasingly complicated challenges of education and socialization of children. School, which is the next most important environment (after family) for the development and socialization of children, has also withdrawn from so-called “problem” children. School does not provide children with adequate knowledge and vital skills that are necessary for full-scale adaptation to an increasingly complicated social environment.(2) Many children from poor or problematic families do not attend school because they lack basic things: clothes, footwear, the money for school fees, etc.

Of course, personal factor is also very important and comes next to the family and school. It depends on the degree of social maturity of a teenager, whether he/she will let negative influences push him/herself around, or he/she will be capable of resisting that. It is a matter of the level of his/her self-esteem, prospects of his/her future, interest in studying, attitude towards positive behavioral models, etc.(3)

An extreme manifestation of the factors that cause desadaptation is that children and adolescences are expelled on the street, forced into asocial and criminal activities, or that they even get involved in criminal activities.(4)

In addition, the education and socialization capacity of the other public and state institutes has also been impaired. Many centers for children, sections and groups in the area of the social organization of leisure for children and adolescences function no longer. The remaining children’s centers function mostly on the basis of paid services; therefore, children from poor families cannot afford attending them. When children and adolescences are simply neglected,   and have nothing to be occupied with in their spare time, the threat of desadapted behavior increases.

A Kyrgyz branch of the EveryChild international development charity now supports the “Protection of the rights of the child by government structures of the Kyrgyz Republic” project, which aims to assist in improvement of capacity of the government structures, particularly such structural divisions of the Ministry of the Interior of the Kyrgyz Republic as centers for adaptation and rehabilitation of minors (CARM) and inspections for juvenile delinquencies (IJD) of two districts in Bishkek (Sverdlovsky and Pervomaisky), as well as the Osh IJD. The project objectives are: development of the services with the focus on effective management of vulnerable child issues, and improvement of the children rights’ protection mechanisms.

Thus, the Bishkek Center for Adaptation and Rehabilitation of Minors (BCARM) is an official body involved in management of the homeless children issues. Problematic, homeless and other categories of children may be placed in the BCARM. These are children who leave their homes and live in the street, get involved in panhandling, petty theft etc., for the reasons mentioned above.

We have conducted a research at this Center to make a diagnosis of the condition of children and provide a further modification of their behavior through the art therapy. This article will expose some aspects of our research. Since the majority of the Center inmates are street or homeless children, it’s quite efficient to approach this special group of children with the types of activities that they may find interesting, such as drawing, clay modeling, and appliqué work. The art of drawing provides a natural opportunity for development of imagination, flexibility and plasticity of thinking. Indeed, those who like drawing show more imagination, spontaneity in expression of their feelings, and flexibility of their judgments. While drawing, children give way to their feelings and emotional experiences, dreams and desires, reconstruct their relations in various situations, and concern with some frightening, unpleasant and injuring images without serious consequences.(5)

It is well known that children draw not only what they see, but also what they have learnt about surrounding subjects and phenomena. Sometimes they draw very unusual, sometimes frightening things, which are actually their vision of the human world, of “adult” problems that they have already experiences themselves. Of course, vision of a child may be very different from vision of an adult. A child takes from the reality only that what seems important and helps him/her to understand what’s going on around them, while ignoring many other things, perhaps the things of no less importance. Drawing is an act of creation, which let children feel and recognize themselves, freely express their thoughts and emotions, get rid of conflicts and stressful experiences, develop empathy,  lean who they are, and freely express their dreams and hopes. That is not merely a reflection of the surroundings and social reality in the consciousness of children: a modeling and expression of their attitude towards it also counts. Some scientists tend to consider the art of drawing as a way of accomplishing the program of self-perfection.(6) It can be that a drawing of a child is a reflection of his/her personality, feelings and emotions, indicator of his/her maturity and development level, as well as perception and understanding of the surrounding reality. Thus, the art of drawing is a unique testing method, as well as a source of observations and a way of adjusting relationships with a child.

Projective drawing is an isotherapy technique that claims special emphasis.(7) This technique is interesting for its twofold nature. On the one hand, it is a remarkable diagnostic method, while on the other hand it includes all techniques necessary for psychotherapeutic treatment. The primary goal of projective drawing is revealing and comprehension of the problems and experiences that patients find difficult to verbalize. By administering and directing the themes of drawing, it is also possible to refocus the attention of a child and make him/her focus on particular and significant problems.(8)

Since CARM is a place of temporary residence and a substitute home for children, we have decided to find out if they feel comfortable, and offered them to draw “Me at the CARM”. According to the analysis of the drawings and conversation with children, hundred percent of the surveyed lack cordiality, care, guardianship, emotional warmth of home, or have a conflict in relationships with their close friends or relatives. 23% of children try to fill this gap and harmonize their surroundings, perhaps because of the lack of the sense of safety, their anxiety and vulnerability.

63% of the drawings clearly show that children feel a need for security. This is not surprising given the specificities of the life in the street: on daily basis, street children face the problems, such as hunger, cold in winter season, no roof over their heads, violence, fear of militia etc. It is also interesting that in their drawings 15% of children show high value of cash and material assets. This is probably because of the specific nature of their life in the street, where the strongest win, as well as because of the features of the time, where moral values have changed and everybody accepts the principle “anything buys and sells”. According to the experts working with children in social rehabilitation facilities, psychological condition of these children is characterized by serious personal problems and changes in the frame of reference. Social psychological desadaptation of teenagers is expressed in a wide range of personal deformations. Their moral consciousness, i.e. their perception of good and evil, is deformed, the scope of their needs is limited, and their interests are primitive.(9)

According to the findings of analysis, half of the surveyed children at BCARM are isolated from some vital realities and prefer to live in imaginary worlds and escape the reality. To a certain extent, children try to protect themselves. Some children try to avoid unpleasant situations. Others try to support themselves, and make their lives easier and more comfortable by creating fantastic images. Some children play, work, study, as if nothing is wrong, and ignore painful experiences. Some other try to protect themselves by reaching out for something special; such children try to draw attention to themselves, which is often accompanied by a tendency towards improvement of behavioral manifestations that adults can not handle.

In 60% of their drawings, children express their unwillingness to let other people into their inner self, they are extremely isolated and have hostile attitude towards the world around them. According to V. Oaklander, the majority of children in need of help usually share one common feature, impairment (to some extent) of their ability to approach to and make contacts with others. We agree with this, because life in the street is necessarily reflected in a child, and children become isolated, suspicious, distrustful, and expect only threat from anybody who approaches them. This is because of the living conditions and the need to struggle every day for survival.

According to traditional interpretation of drawing-based tests, sexually abused children often draw house or tree in a peculiar, phallic shape. According to experts in this area, the majority of sexually abused girls draw this shape. According to 21% of drawings, these children are in a sexual conflict and probably have been sexually abused. Of course, this assumption needs to be studied carefully and needs an application of other methods of research, but it can be preliminary concluded that these children have definitely encountered abuse in their lives.

For social work with children, it is very important to use flexible forms of psychotherapeutic treatment. The “Protection of the rights of the child by government structures of the Kyrgyz Republic” project is also expected to train psychologists and social workers to use the methods of art therapy for diagnostic purposes and for further social rehabilitation of children at CARMs. Art therapy gives a child an opportunity to re-enact, experience and understand conflict situations or some problems in a way that is the most convenient for the mentality of a child. Art therapeutic techniques let a person dip into a problem to the extent of one’s readiness to experience it. In most cases, children do not realize what happens to them. The main objective of art therapy is to harmonize the development of a person through development of his/her ability to express and self-fulfill him/herself.

In a psychotherapeutic context, one might say that the practice of visual arts is spontaneous. The act of creation itself is important to art therapy, as well as specific features of the inner life of the creator, as identified through implementation of such act. Facilitators encourage participants to express their inner moral experiences as spontaneously as possible, without a need to worry about artistic features of their works.(10) Artistic expression, in some way or other, is associated with the improvement of mental health of a child, and therefore may be viewed as a considerable psychological and corrective factor. Isotherapy is also often used for psychotherapeutic purposes, in order to help children deal with their psychological problems, restore their emotional balance, or eliminate existing behavior impairments. Now, there are various forms of art therapy for children. In some cases, this is obviously “clinical” therapy as, for instance, in case of intellectual retardation, autism, rough emotional and behavioral impairments, and is administered in medical institutions or at special or boarding schools. In other cases, art therapy is a rather preventive treatment or “developmental” activity (for instance, if a child has minor emotional and behavioral disorder or certain psychological problems), which is administered at regular schools or social centers. Children use drawings as a way to conceive the reality and their relationships with it. A drawing may be used to judge the level of intellectual development and degree of mental maturity of a child.(11)

Drawing promotes development of emotional and motor coordination. It has an advantage, as it requires a coordinated involvement of many mental functions. While drawing, children give way to their feelings and emotional experiences, dreams and desires, reconstruct their relations in various situations, and deal with some frightening, unpleasant and injuring images without serious consequences. Therefore, drawing is used as a way of grasping one’s possibilities and the surrounding reality, a way of modeling of relationships and expressing various emotions, including negative ones. That is why drawing is widely used to relieve mental strain, get rid of stress, as well as treat neuroses and fears.(13)

In addition to drawing, social work with children often includes methods such as art therapy, as clay/pastry/other modeling, the producing of hand-made articles from natural materials, making collages. All these materials give pleasant feelings, help relax, give an opportunity to have tactile and kinesthetic impressions; they make a kind of bridge between sensations and feelings, because when a child works with them, s/he has different ways of “blowing of the steam”, that is, giving a way to negative emotions. The work with these materials allows developing tactile and kinesthetic senses, promote the skills of communication with children of the same age - since such work is most often organized as a group class, which helps children to understand and correctly interpret some of their problems through the interaction with these materials, and the correlation of themselves and the articles they produce of any material. A child transfers his/her attitudes and difficulties to this hand-made article. The questions asked by a psychotherapist, and also by other children, help a child resolve his/her problem or embark on some way to resolve it.(15)

Theatre art is yet another efficient method of correction and rehabilitation of children. The experience of theatre art for development of sensory perception (in imagination) and for resolution of the problematic situations, for instance, through conversation with an imagined company (asserting claims and making possible responses to these claims asserted to him/herself), helps a child to see the problem from others’ point of view. Besides that, in imagination of a prearranged topic, children reveal and verbalize their troubles; therefore, it becomes easier for them to resolve the troubles.(16) A method of the theatre proposed by Augusto Boal, acclaimed Brazilian theatre director and pedagogue, which is now collectively called the Theatre of the Oppressed, is another efficient method.(17) The idea behind all of his work is that communities and individuals can discover their own solutions to problems of oppression and injustice by using theatre as a tool. The action on stage creates reaction in the audience – they become spect-actors not only spectators. In the safe-heaven of the theatre, the spect-actors can choose the best solution to try them out in reality. The Forum Theatre is a rehearsal for real life. It offers some possibilities of changing the immediate world we live in.

Thus, the application of the methods of art therapy in social work with desadapted children will let us have a better insight into the inner world of a child, understand his/her problems and emotional experiences. Art therapy is resourceful and can replace routine stereotypes; therefore it can expand real-life experience and develop self-confidence. Art therapy establishes a creative attitude to life (even if the life is problematic), an ability to see the multitude of ways and means of achieving some goal; it develops hidden abilities and helps the search for creative solutions to difficult existential problems, without expecting some special “inspiration”, or special conditions for creativity.





1 E. I. Kholostova, Social work with desadapted children. Мoscow, 2007. p. 4.
2 Street social work techniques. Ed. E. A. Voronova, V. N. Kelassieva, G. S. Kurganov. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg University Printhouse, 2002. p. 18.
3 Street social work techniques. Ed. E. A. Voronova, V. N. Kelassieva, G. S. Kurganov. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg University Printhouse, 2002. p. 19.
4 E. I. Kholostova, Social work with desadapted children. Мoscow, 2007. p. 33.
5 A. I. Zakharov “Children and their day fears and nightmares”; St. Petersburg, 2000, p. 129.
6 A.I. Kopytin of “Basics of Art Therapy»; St. Petersburg, 1999.
7 Isotherapy is a therapy through visual arts.
8 А. А. Osipova “General psychotherapy”; Moscow, 2000, p. 191.
9 Street social work techniques. Ed. E. A. Voronova, V. N. Kelassieva, G. S. Kurganov. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg University Printhouse, 2002. pp. 28-29.
10 V. Oaklander. Windows to our children: A Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents. Moscow, 2003, p. 196.
11 Child abuse prevention manual. Ed. N. K. Asanova. Moscow, 1997. p. 285.
12 A. I. Kopytin “Basics of Art Therapy»; St. Petersburg, 1999. p. 78.
13 А. А. Osipova “General psychotherapy”; Moscow, 2000, p. 95.
14 Ibid, p. 78.
15 V. Oaklander. Windows to our children: A Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents. Moscow, 2003. p. 135.
16 Ibid, p. 210.

VS 1 The multitude of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques: From Theory to Practice

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Zhyldyz Zhekshenovna Omusheva: The Potential of the Methods of Art Therapy in Educational Work with Desadapted Children - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

Webmeister: Gerald Mach     last change: 2010-03-29