Iowa City Rape Victim Advocacy Program support group heals through art

The group started meeting on Nov. 5 and utilizes art as a medium for empowerment and self-care.


Alex Snyder

The RVAP Building is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. The RVAP Building hosts the new support group Healing Through Art.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Rape Victim Advocacy Program launched a new support group earlier this month to help people grow and heal through art.

Titled “Healing Through Art,” the support group teaches people methods for coping with trauma or difficulties through different types of art, and the group holds sessions on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The group held its first meeting Nov. 5.

RVAP helps those impacted by sexual violence through advocacy and prevention education. It provides free and confidential services such as counseling and 24-hour crisis lines.

Residents from Iowa counties Cedar, Des Moines, Henry, Iowa, Johnson, Lee, Washington, and Van Buren can use the program’s services.

The support group was created by Libby Conley, a master’s intern in the University of Iowa Clinical Mental Counseling program, and Leanne Bender, a student in the University of Northern Iowa Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.

“Last week, we had, I think, seven people there, and it seemed to be meaningful for all the people that came,” Conley said.

Conley said people who attend the support group can come to talk while working on art or create art in silence if they choose.

RELATED: RVAP provides Iowa City middle school students with comprehensive sexual education

“People have found that when you’re working through traumatic events or life difficulties, making art gets you out of verbal processing and into a different kind of processing that is very healing,” Conley said. “Whatever little projects you do — even for 45 minutes — changes the way your brain is processing, and that change can help people work through trauma.”

As part of her internship at the Iowa City Rape Victim Advocacy Program, Bender said she is tasked with creating and facilitating a new group.

“I wanted to think about creating this group to address survivors’ likely need for empowerment and self-care and to look at boundaries because oftentimes. They have had their boundaries stepped on in some way,” Bender said. “I wanted to provide the healing through a creative outlet.”

Bender said she’s using art as a creative outlet because of the variety of art mediums that can be utilized, whether it’s painting, drawing, or other activities.

“I think that adults can connect with their creative side during art in a way that maybe they don’t give themselves time to do outside of carving this special time,” she said.

Bender said the Iowa City Rape Victim Advocacy Program had received requests from women and sexual assault survivors asking for a support group in the past.

“In a support group, you experience the universality of what others have experienced in their healing or assault as well as just knowing that wherever you are at that moment is okay,” Bender said.

Conley also sees people one-on-one at the Iowa City Rape Victim Advocacy Program and participates in other support groups in different roles as part of her previous occupation as a psychiatric chaplain.

“It is a group of people that I really like and connect with. And so, I wanted as I ended my Chaplain career, I wanted to continue working with people in a variety of mental health situations,” Conley said.

Conley said support groups also reinforce the message that people are not alone.

“You are one of several people who may have been through similar trauma, and not being alone and having others to process with is basic to our humanity and also basic to healing,” she said.