Drawing child abuse

Just a year ago, Frontiers in Psychology journal published a revealing article by Limor Goldner, Rachel Lev-Wiesel and Bussakorn Binson: Perceptions of child abuse as manifested in drawings and narrations by children and adolescents. Their study will not fail to captivate school and family psychologists, art therapists and researchers in this domain.

In their preamble, the three scholars begin by reminding us that “child abuse is an underreported phenomenon despite its high global prevalence.” Studies such as theirs are pointing in the right direction, for clinicians certainly, but also for parents and citizens to become better equipped in recognizing signs of child abuse and making reporting more prevalent.

This is by no means a large scale study. A mere 97 Israeli children and adolescents aged 6–17 participated. The authors judiciously gathered and analyzed the narratives which accompanied the drawings. The perceptions of both physical and emotional or psychological abuses are under scrutiny. There are brief comments about the differences between children and parents in their perceptions of abuse.

The results become quite interesting with the presentation of dissociative techniques used by children in their drawings. This can be expressed through a discrepancy between the image and the narrative, or going as far as refusing to conform to the task at hand. Dissociation may result in a colorful image with no visible negative element. That is to say, an innocent looking drawing may in fact shield emotions difficult to express or provide a coping mechanism. This is a reminder that the simple act of drawing have an intrinsic powerful impact on our thoughts and emotions. The high prevalence of such mechanism found in the study is a lot to think about.

Perceptions of child abuse as manifested in drawings and narratives by children and adolescents. An example of drawing and narrative of parent-child abuse drawn by a child. ©2021 Goldner, Lev-Wiesel and Binson. Source: Frontiers in Psychology, 13 February 2022.

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