In joann kerschner,personal stories

My Second Language — A New Voice

All of the drawings you see on this web page were drawn by me, JoAnn Kerschner, CEO of Shattered Canvas, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse on a continuing journey of HOPE, for me and YOU!

An outlet, a story, an emotion; each drawing depicting a moment in time, a picture in my head that no one could ever see…..

The images shown are a representation of my story; a process I learned and still do in my continued therapy from childhood sexual abuse, it is called Art Therapy and it heals.  It is my Band-Aid, a visible means of trying to show the intense pain that has no visible wound, no cuts, no bleeding, only an invisible gaping hole in my heart, internal bleeding, a slow death from the inside out. The images reflecting pain, hopes, shattered lives, abuse, anger,  moments of healing, a path like no other, unimaginable, the invisibility of mental illness, the absent pictures in the photo album, my life. The colors reflecting my emotions, those that have no words, undefined, not found in dictionaries, only in my head, the ones you can’t discuss with anyone….a by-product of childhood sexual abuse and the stigma of mental health. Each picture has a title, a thought, a memory, a moment that most do not want to hear about or even understand; after all mental illness is that silent word in society, and anyone who has been traumatized by childhood sexual abuse  suffers from it…mostly alone and only in their own silence.

The journey of healing is equally as hard, but worth every second of pain. Reflected in the drawings you see HOPE, brightness, growth…me.  Art therapy involves more than just drawings, it involves working with clay, oil pastels, collages, stickers, cutting and pasting, it involves learning a new language, a voice that was unfamiliar to me but it has turned out to be MY VOICE.  A voice that wants to speak to and educate the world, support other survivors, eliminate childhood sexual abuse, and erase the stigma of mental health!

Art therapy is defined by the American Art Therapy Association as:

Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.

Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the Art Therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. (

The Beginning; Art therapy, the Journey of HOPE!

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and did not have a voice, no ability to talk, something that you took for granted the night before.  How would you feel?  Would you be scared, anxious, overwhelmed and wonder how you were going to communicate?

July 22, 2012, Sunday, I was lying in bed in the middle of the day, overwhelmed, anxious, and scared; I had no idea how I was going to communicate.  I was angry, depressed, crying; I had no voice. I was desperate, I needed help if I was going to get my voice back; I wondered if I could?  I thought  this could be the end of my life, maybe I should just run away from my family, end my own life, after all, I had no voice, and with all things considered I felt worthless; I was worthless.

Who would I be able to talk to with no voice?  Not having a voice caused excruciating pain; the worst pain I ever had, but no one could see the physical pain I was in, they just saw silence. I searched my phone for help for over an hour, back and forth, website to website, person to person, who was the best one to help me?  Then I saw it, the person, yes…this was the chance, my only chance; the words jumped out at me… Matthew Swan, MS, LCPC, LCPAT, his bio stated;

I believe finding a therapist you are comfortable with is important. On the first contact via phone or e-mail we can discuss your reasons for seeking therapy. Following, if we are a fit we can schedule an appointment. Upon meeting face to face we can discuss goals and outcomes you would like to work toward. Together we can strive for change.”

I was shaking and scared but I took a chance; after all he was concerned with being comfortable, that was so important to me, I emailed him, stating I wanted an appointment ASAP; leaving out the detail of not having a voice. He emailed me right back, stating he could see me the next morning at 10 am. I did not even have time think of a way out of this appointment, I was really afraid, should I go, what would I say with no voice?  I replied, “I will take the appointment”.

I showed up, pretended that I had a voice. I did not even tell him why I was really there. An amazing thing happened in the next few visits; he gave me a voice, a little one, still hard to hear, but a voice….Art therapy!

He asked me to draw pictures, I was nervous because he did not really know me, I did not trust him, and I could not draw a stick figure. He actually had me scribble on a piece of paper, just like I did when I was a little girl, and then he told me I had to find a picture in that scribble, now I was really nervous; I looked and looked, my heart was racing; I could only see scribble.  Matthew waited patiently, talked to me calmly, encouraged me gently, and told he was confident that I could find something.  I felt better, then I saw it; I took the black marker and outlined a star!  Well then the next question, “Why do you think you found a star?” I was just happy to find one, now I had to figure out a reason; then I knew…deep down inside I always wanted to be a shining star, I wasn’t, and I pretended my whole life that I really hated being the center of attention, avoiding it at all costs. Did I just say that out loud? My voice, quiet, meek, shaky, but yes; he heard me!

Why do I tell you this story?  The drawings continued every session, a house, a place that I love, an activity with my family, my self, a color to reflect my emotion, more scribble (I saw a butterfly), questions about the color of marker, pastel, or pencil I was using. I was still so nervous, I just could not do this, the drawings became overwhelming, Matthew started to inquire about the stories the pictures told, and I felt like he had a secret camera into my life, my feelings, then the hour was up.  I left feeling confused, angry at times, but always reflective of those drawings; how was Matthew able to get me to talk about my life in relation to what I drew? I asked Matthew if he ever saw clients for two hours at a time because I just could not continue to draw, start to talk, and then leave. He told me he had not ever given clients two hours, he explained why, but then he said he would try it with me. I was relieved in some ways; he actually seemed to care about my voice and me, but now I was going to have to work harder, and what was he going to ask me to draw next?

My therapy continued, two hour sessions, drawings, talking, my life was being exposed in pictures. Could I take the next step, trusting him with my deepest secret ever, the real reason I was there?  He knew there was something, he told me I was the most controlled, uncontrolled client he had ever had; my leg shaking a hundred miles an hour, my face expressionless, my voice quiet; but he maintained his calm demeanor, talking about everyday life, my work, my family, my drawings, stress, anxiety, eating. I was getting angry at myself, I did not want to really talk about those things but I was intrigued by my drawings, their ability to tell a story about me. Then I did it, I told him…I was sexually abused by my father.

My life and world changed at that very moment, I had no idea and could have never imagined the path I was about to embark upon. I will say this, I continued to draw, my colors and emotions exploded, giving voice a new meaning, one that was seen. Anger, depression, darkness, conflict, family, emotionless and emotion; they made me talk, cry, holler, storm out, disassociate, but I drew and spoke about being worthless and wondered why he took the time with me?  My drawings began to emerge, I used oil pastels, and they were deep and messy, full of expression, my expression. I started taking up the whole piece of paper, filled with red (anger), black (depression), and each one; stronger and stronger. I bought my own sketch pad; pencils, oil pastels, and paint; I used the technique I had learned to express my emotions outside of therapy.

My therapy drawings were part of my clinical record, Matthew always asked me what I wanted to call them, sometimes I would say, “Nothing, I don’t care, or whatever”, but over time I titled them, “Pain, anger, tunnel of darkness, lonely, shattered heart, and broken dreams.”  Matthew had me work with clay when I was really angry, it was so hard, it felt good to work with it, releasing my energy, I ripped up paper,  made collages, drew, and I talked about my past. I decorated my own special box with stickers, drawings, words, all the negative things I felt; bringing in items to place in the box, things that I could release from my life…all a part of art therapy.

It has been 2 ½ years since the day I took a chance on Matthew Swan; he will tell you I took a chance on myself.  I will say this, I learned to trust Matthew, a new experience for me, he trusted me, we worked together, he accepted me for who I was, he never judged me, and during one of the darkest moments of my life, he told me he thought I was worth it. My story emerged, my life unfolded, pain, coping mechanisms, hatred, self-injury, suicidal, medications, hospitalization, walking out but never away. Today, I have tough times, moments, and memories but the sun is shining in my life, that little girl inside of me has been born again, into a world of promise and HOPE.

My art therapy and counseling continues; it is a healing journey.  My art today is full of light, growth, new beginnings, faith, a path of gratitude, no regrets….. A new voice, my second language. A gift and a blessing that has empowered me to reach into the dark souls of all survivors of childhood sexual abuse, take their hand, and tell them they are WORTH it!

In the future weeks I will share the stories behind the art work that you see today, show you my new pictures, love for art, photography and  I will continue to HOPE!



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