The GlassBook Project: Trauma Awareness Through Art
By Meredith Hogan Pond
Art is a powerful educational and public awareness tool when it comes to addressing responses to personal trauma, such as self injury.
In support of this idea and to increase awareness, SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) recently sponsored the GlassBook Project, a presentation and exhibit of works by several young artists who created books made of glass to express their experience of trauma, healing, and recovery. The presentation was part of the CMHS Food for Thought Series.
“Powerful as works of art, these books made of glass translate the traumatic experience of self-injury,” said CMHS Director A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed.
“A public conversation about self injury hasn’t been the easiest thing to do in our society,” said Ms. Power. “However, art and the creative process help ease the discomfort of talking about this very personal issue. The GlassBook Project provides a way to reflect and openly discuss the details of self-injury and trauma.”
See SAMHSA Supports the GlassBook Project.
“Art can help inform and educate on the impact of trauma and also show that healing and recovery do happen,” said Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., Associate Director for Consumers Affairs at CMHS. “The GlassBook Project helps reach people’s hearts and minds to build understanding and acceptance of people with mental health problems and trauma histories.”
As a metaphor, glass conveys tremendous resonance for artists and non-artists alike. For example, the material itself is fragile but it is also strong. When you touch glass, it captures both the vulnerability of the experience of self-injury along with the resilience of an individual in recovery.
Even more poignant, the transparency of the glass gives us the sense of looking inside the person, of peering in and letting us see the vulnerability and the trauma. And the actual words and expressions written by the artist on a glass book’s pages give a voice to the story.
Speakers at the GlassBook Project’s presentation included Helga Luest, President & CEO, Witness Justice; Nick Kline, Instructor at Rutgers University-Newark; Ruta Mazelis, National Trainer and Expert, Witness Justice; and Nora Luongo and Rebecca Ortiz, both students at Rutgers University-Newark and artists who participated in the first GlassBook collection.
Both Ms. Luest and Ms. Mazelis have worked with SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care for the past several years, and they collaborated with Professor Kline to create this inspiring project.
“The students have given us some incredible insight on how learning happens with regard to trauma issues,” said Ms. Luest, herself a trauma survivor. “This project informs us as we look at creating a cultural shift in human services across the country to one that is trauma-informed and more healing for survivors. Their creative process with community involvement has really given us a lot to consider with regard to these creative paths to healing and learning that can do something that language cannot. This project has the ability to reach people and take them to a different place, adding a new dimension to how we communicate to others and foster change.”
The GlassBook Project was conceived by Professor Kline, after many discussions about community and nonprofit work with Ms. Luest, a childhood friend. “Through this project, I’ve learned a great deal about an issue that affects many trauma survivors,” said Professor Kline. “I’ve been able to facilitate that learning between my students, a national trauma expert, and with mental health administrators throughout the country.”
Professor Kline expressed his appreciation for the power of collaboration. “With these disparate communities translates into a fuller learning and life experience—and not just for students.”
At the start of the semester, Kline provided his students a sample of research and writings on self-injury. He also connected with Newark-based nonprofit, GlassRoots, to bring another community component into this project while giving students the unique experience of creating a book made of glass.
Professor Kline invited his students to email questions to self-injury expert Ruta Mazelis; she is working with SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. The challenge to students was to create a glass book on a topic that has helped create thought-provoking dialogue in the trauma field. Rebecca Ortiz, one of the first Rutgers’ students to take part in the GlassBook Project, told the audience, “As artists we were asked to “reach” outside our comfort zone. I think we all tried to do that. Every book is very different.”
The GlassBook Project is traveling around the country as an exhibit at mental health conferences and other related public forums. Responses have been positive. Four state mental health agencies recently committed to replicating the GlassBook Project, and others have expressed interest.
SAMHSA has provided funding to create an adaptable curriculum that can be used to replicate the Project in various other responses to trauma that are often misunderstood, such as dissociation, isolation, addiction, and violence.
“Materials so often used for cutting and self-injury—these shards of broken glass—have been shaped, or better yet, transformed, into something very positive—a book,” Ms. Power said. “A book is a respected source of information and storytelling to help us understand. This is just one way to open the door to healing mental health issues through creativity.”
To learn more about the GlassBook Project, visit the Project’s Web site. To learn more about mental health, visit SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.
A “Food for Thought” Presentation at SAMHSA on July 13, 2009
Included Helga Luest, Nick Kline, Ruta Mazelis and a Rutgers student from the class that made the original collection.
Exhibit of “The GlassBook Project—Self Injury and Trauma” Collection
Displayed in SAMHSA’s history room on the lobby level for 1 month in summer 2009 and traveled to Hollywood as the showcase exhibit at the 2009 Voice Awards.
Pilot Curriculum and Related Tools
Developed to help create new GlassBook collections in various states addressing response to trauma that are often misunderstood.
Project’s Promotional Booklet
A booklet about the GlassBook Project continues to help raise awareness and interest.