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By: Arthur Nguyen dao

Phare the Cambodian Circus was created with the idea that art therapy could help children recover from the trauma of war and displacement.

The story of Phare starts in refugee camp 2 at the Thai border. There, a French doctor was practicing art therapy with drawing classes for the children to be able to express themselves about their shocking experiences.

What exactly is art therapy?

Art therapy focuses on combining both arts and psychotherapy to improve a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. It can be either centered on the healing power of art itself, or art can be used as a channel to psychotherapy. The idea of art therapy is that it is sometimes easier for humans to express themselves through creativity rather than classical limited ways of expression that are speaking or writing. Among others, creativity can help resolve traumas, behavioral issues or self-esteem problems. It is a way to communicate both consciously and unconsciously through symbols and metaphors, and thus exteriorize feelings and emotions.

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The great thing about art therapy is that the scope of arts is unlimited. The classical artistic disciplines have been widely used in art therapies. So, among the classics, we can count painting, clay, drawing, photography, puppets, video, dancing, theatre, music and circus. But many therapies are conducted with other ways of creative expressions and several things can be invented to cope with specific needs.

Why use art therapy specifically with children?

Art therapy is thought to be often very effective on children as they are more creative than elders. This is because they have less psychological boundaries and because they somewhat compensate with their more limited vocabulary. As a consequence, colors, forms and shapes can be a much effective form of communication compared to conversation when it comes to traumatic events.

Children tend to bury hard experiences and emotions in their subconscious. Art is then used as a canal to bring those emotions to the surface to avoid that they affect the child in the future.

art-therapy3What happened at Phare?

Phare founders had been shown that drawing could help them overcome their suffering. So, when they came back to Battambong they created the Visual and Applied Arts School to further something that worked on them. Realizing that drawing was not enough for the most damaged and vulnerable children they eventually created the Performing Arts School with 3 departments: circus, music and theater.

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If today for the new generation of Phare pupils the trauma of war is not a concern anymore, art therapy is nonetheless of great importance.

At Phare, arts are nowadays used not only as a therapy but also as vocational training. In Battambong, children can practice arts as extra-curricular activities after school simply because they like it or because they need it as a therapy or a mean of self-accomplishment. Indeed, Phare students come from very difficult economic and social backgrounds. They can also choose to come to the Art Schools but in the vocational training programs and thus learn at the professional level and get gainful employment opportunities.

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Today, the departments of both Visual and Applied Arts School and Performing Arts School provide for various professional opportunities. There are exhibition spaces, graphic design and animation studios, recording studios, international tours and artistic collaborations.

And there is also a red Big Top in Siem Reap! Come and see the great transformation of young children to amazing artists. You will be able to see circus performers, musicians and painters while enjoying a tasteful meal in Phare Cafe and browsing the artwork from Battambong and souvenirs in Phare Boutique. For online reservation, please click here, and for a synopsis of the current show, please click here.

And if you want the opinion of others, click on the TripAdvisor link!