A team of volunteers from Chulalongkorn University’s Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) program journeyed to Korat city, Nakorn Ratchasima province on 22-23 February to provide trauma therapy sessions and trauma release exercises to survivors of the tragic shooting incident at the Terminal 21 shopping mall on 8 February. The team was led by the Dean of the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA), Prof Bussakorn Binson and supervised by Prof Rachel Lev-Wiesel, the Director of the Emili Sagol Creative Arts Therapies Research Center at the University of Haifa, Israel.
Chulalongkorn University and Haifa University have cooperated on art-based therapeutic programs for 17 years. The week after traveling to Korat, many of the volunteers were back at Chulalongkorn’s ART4C Center to take a three-day advanced professional creative arts therapy course with Prof Lev-Wiesel and her colleagues.
The CAT team welcomed the first group of survivors with face-to-face ‘ice-breaking’ introductions with a ‘buddy’ therapist, then they and the therapists drew self-image pictures, as Prof Lev-Wiesel explained, “We need these kinds of tools to help people describe their feelings because the brain doesn’t know how to re-boot after a traumatic event.” She explained that their approach was inter-disciplinary – CAT integrated the arts, neurology, and psychology across modalities that included dance therapy, music, visual art, and drama/psychodrama.
The survivors were also asked to draw a picture of how they saw themselves in five years. In addition to drawing, musical activities were also introduced: everyone joined a big circle and were given a hand drum to beat rhythm and then make any statement or sound they wanted. At first, they struggled to vocalize their feelings but when they did, the effect was moving and very powerful.
On the Saturday evening, Prof Bussakorn held a session of Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) for those who wanted to de-stress after the horrendous events at T21; similar courses have been running for some time at ART4C for those suffering from ‘office syndrome’ or stress or trauma as part of the FAA’s commitment to reaching out to the local community.
After a full day of therapy and TRE sessions, the following day the CAT team went to work with survivors on the lower ground floor of Terminal 21. This was where 8 people were killed and many injured, and the scene, said several survivors, was terrible, something that they were struggling to come to terms with. The CAT therapists went to talk and work with those who wanted some assistance, using the same techniques as the day before – ice-breaking intros and self-image picture drawing.
One security guard recounted how three of his friends were killed but he was unable to help them at all. He drew a picture of the event and when asked to draw a picture of his life in five years, he drew one with the same dimensions and shape but filled it in with peaceful images of farm life. “There were some very touching moments and we all learned a lot about how to help victims in those kinds of circumstances,” explained Prof Bussakorn. She said that the CAT team would return to Korat in three months to work with victims who are still in the hospital recovering from their injuries.
Prof Bussakorn noted that the CAT Team’s ability to respond quickly and professionally highlighted the strong bond and cooperation that existed between Chulalongkorn and Haifa university.
Although creative arts therapies are relatively new to Thailand, there is a growing number of therapists who want to support and help those who have suffered trauma through inter-disciplinary, creative art-based activities.