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Put Down the Guns, Pick Up the Crayons

Guest Blogger Deb Shoemaker, MAAT, ATR-Registered Art Therapist., LPC - Licensed Professional Counselor, Vermont College of Norwich University, 1997, comes to the field of art therapy as a lifelong dream since high school where she attended North Carolina School of the Arts and discovered the field of Art Therapy. She has a private practice in Wilmington, NC.


School started back on January 2nd in my county after a two week winter break. On that same morning I drove by my neighborhood elementary school as I do every weekday; and, as I always do, I looked at the school as I drove by it. On this particular morning I saw a sheriff's car parked in the front lot. The sun reflected off the metal, calling even more attention to it and the armed uniformed officer standing at the school entrance. It was then that I became very sad.

Our local Board of Education had elected over the holiday break to mandate law enforcement officers in each of the elementary schools in our small, quiet resort town. This initiative was in reaction to the devastating massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The intent? To provide safety for our children.

I am a professional art therapist in private practice. Many of my clients are students in these schools. More guns, more security? These cannot be the only solutions, I thought. In fact, more guns and more tightened security only serve as reactionary Band Aids. They are not solutions to the problem at all. I'm not sure the whole problem has even been identified.

What is needed is for stakeholders to further examine the issues, to put magnifiers on the tragic events that have impacted our children, our schools and our nation. A great starting place is to ask, "What exactly lead someone like Adam Lanza to carry out that horrific act (killing 20 children, six adults and himself) on that morning?" A Band Aid won't fix that problem; it will only make it worse because it gives the false perception of safety. A Band Aid hides the injury.

As it turns out, in the past two weeks, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, agrees that more guns and tauten security is not the only solution. He cautioned that firearms alone do not make schools safer...and an overwhelming majority of teachers are echoing that thought with pleas for more resources, stating that they do not want more guns in their schools. Duncan iterates that 'fear prevents students from making the most of their time in the classroom.' I would venture to say that the same is true for educators. Furthermore, Duncan reports that security officers at schools does not translate to reduced violence, citing former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer, "I had schools who used to have nine security folks...I put all that money into nine social workers and I saw huge reductions in violence."

The National Rifle Association-NRA-has indicated that they would like to help reduce (gun-related) violence in schools. Then let them fund school art therapy programs. Instead of placing more guns and fear in our children's schools, place mental health professionals and art supplies in our schools. According to experts, currently less than 20% of students with mental health problems are receiving treatment for or even have access to mental health services, mostly because they cannot afford the services.

Teachers may and can be trained to identify students who have mental health issues and needs (they already do this), but they are professional educators not mental health professionals. Thus, the argument to make therapists accessible to students in their schools.

Art Therapy is the ideal application of such. It provides a two-prong solution: trauma recovery and prevention. With professional facilitation, drawing provides a safe outlet to communicate what children often have no words to describe, and it engages children in the active involvement in their own healing, providing a sense of control.

Art Therapy is a viable solution.

Adults just need to put down their guns, which only serve to model weapons as a solution, and students need to pick up their crayons and start drawing.


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