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Increasing peace using arts

Art has the power to do many things including heal. In Queensland Mental Health Week, Jane Griffin, CEO of Friends of HEAL Foundation charity talks about arts programs which support young people of refugee backgrounds.

Arts Therapy and Music Therapy help ameliorate the effects of trauma, and assist with the difficulties encountered by young newcomers as they settle into a new country and attend school. The Friends of HEAL Foundation (FHEAL) is a unique charity providing Creative Arts Therapy in schools for traumatised refugee children in Queensland.  

Drawing with the text Keep on Healing

The challenge:

Young refugees arrive in Australia, having experienced intense hardship, such as war, refugee camp life, forced dislocation, deprivation, torture, trauma, and grief. For some, the journey to good settlement is difficult. They suffer the symptoms of trauma, feelings of anxiety and fear, inability to feel safe or to relax, difficulty with relationships, and cognitive problems affecting memory and learning ability.

Student drawing

The response:

In 2004, the HEAL (Home of Expressive Arts in Learning) service was set up by Jane Griffin, a Registered Arts Therapist and ESL teacher at Milpera State High School in Brisbane, QLD. HEAL Creative Arts Therapy takes place on site in school so there is no stigma about attending and there are no issues with attending appointments on time.  

Creativity is popular! HEAL has become an important part of Milpera’s young people’s lives, and has been seen to help them in recovering from their difficult journeys, becoming open to learning and in settling well. 

The program is now in other Brisbane schools including Yeronga, Woodridge, and  Kedron State High Schools, St James College, and Richlands East and Watson Road State Schools.

FHEAL also run “Heal on Wheels”,  a mobile service which has increased the reach of the HEAL services. 

Creative Arts Therapy works! The creative relational engagement, feelings of inclusion and improved functioning result in better citizens of the future and thus contribute towards a healthier Australian society. I liked the work we did together. I liked both the colouring and the writing. I learned about caring for friends, family, neighbours. I feel happy when I am in the Tree of Life. Burundian Art therapy is good because it helps you calm down if you are angry. You also get to have fun and meet new friends. Tanzanian I learned about other people and their cultures. Now I know how to talk to someone in the group because I know them now, we became better friednds. I learned more about myself and my family, what I like and what I don’t like. Afgan It was a nice place to get comfort. Afgan I learned to be thoughtful, to remember my family, my past and think about the future. I learned more about myself and my family, what I lke and what I don’t like. Afgan I learned about myself and lots about other students. I learned about other friends an now I know who they actually are and I don’t have to judge them… Somalian


The added bonus: 

The FHEAL charity formed in 2012, begun by Jane Griffin, CEO and Adele Rice, the founding Principal of Milpera, who became Chair. This registered charity was begun to provide HEAL services in other schools. All FHEAL Board members volunteer their time and energy. 

FHEAL was recently presented with a Queensland Multicultural Award in recognition of their contribution in supporting and promoting a united, harmonious and inclusive Queensland community.

Teachers appreciate HEAL She is not so sad anymore, and is working much better in class. I can see a big change: he is more settled and more able to focus on learning in class. HEAL has helped him to make friends, and to have less problems with conflict with classmates. She appears more relaxed and comfortable after HEAL sessions. I have seen such a big difference since he started going to HEAL. We have a happier more settled student. We have less problems since the students have learned how to calm themselves and be more mindful. Couldn’t do it without HEAL, thanks!!

The outcomes:

Art is inherently healing. Arts methods include painting, sculpture, collage, music making, song writing, meditation, mindfulness practice, fabric work, and sand play. 

The relationship formed between HEAL creative arts therapists and children allows exploration, integration, and relaxation. This therapy contributes to cooperation amongst students and their school community, while using a person-centred, participatory approach. Harmony is enhanced through providing space, place, and time to learn about peaceful ways of being in this new land, and through encouraging focus on self-identity. 

The potential for personal growth is increased, in the realms of better well-being, as a school learner and as a person connected to community and larger systems. HEAL participation enhances well-being, assisting children in embracing their new identities, improving their mental health, and encouraging them to reach their potential, through using culturally appropriate creative psychotherapeutic methods, on site. 


Photo of Jane GriffinJane Griffin is an Arts Psychotherapist, the founder and Co-ordinator of the HEAL Program at Milpera State High School, and the CEO of the Friends of HEAL Foundation charity.

She has a background in teaching, fine arts and creative arts therapy. ( B.Education, SIE; Grad. Cert.TSL, USQ; B.FineArt, QCA; Grad. Dip Creative Arts Therapies, MIECAT; Master Mental Health, UQ ; AThR.)

She has been fortunate to have worked at Milpera with migrant and refugee youth as a class teacher of English as a Second Language initially, and to have returned to Milpera in 2004 after retraining, as an Arts Therapist, working with refugee youth. That journey led to the forming of FHEAL, the charity providing Creative Arts Therapy to schools for refugee young people.


For information about Friends of Heal and how you can help see the FHEAL website.