Battered Justice: Therapists Use Storytelling to Help Children from Violent Homes

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FULTON - The Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence, CARDV, in Fulton is pioneering a new treatment for children exposed to domestic violence at home. Dr. Kim Anderson and several youth therapists are helping children, aged seven to 17, cope with their experiences using digital storytelling. The children put together short, approximately three-minute videos that tell their stories, using pictures, songs, voice tracks, and more.

The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence in the home each year in the U.S. Dr. Anderson, a professor of social work at MU, has performed several long-term studies, following children from violent homes as they age. She told KOMU 8 many of them struggle with their coping abilities and experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. However, she said many children are very resilient and break the cycle of violence.

Dr. Anderson's digital storytelling program is fairly new, so there is no official data to prove its positive effects. However, she has found that the program helps children cope with stress and open up about the trauma they have witnessed.

"It's not easy for them to talk about," said Dr. Anderson. The digital storytelling program helps between 35 and 45 children a year. That is, up to 12 children a week. Dr. Anderson's program involves the non-offending parent in the child's treatment.

Dr. Jason Zoellers is one of three youth therapists that work directly with the children on their stories. He told KOMU 8 he feels this treatment especially targets today's kids, given their exposure to technology and social sites, like Facebook.

70-year-old Helen Gennari of St. Louis grew up in a violent home where her father physically and emotionally abused her mother. She recalls leading her two younger sisters outside when her father would begin to act violently, such as when he threw food at her mother. She told KOMU 8 she appreciates CARDV's digital storytelling program for children, as she has found comfort in writing about her father's violence in the course of her own healing. She believes great creativity comes out of traumatic experiences.

CARDV encourages those interested in the digital storytelling program or other resources to visit its website or call 573-642-4422.