Implementation Research with Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT) to Support the Newcomer Survivors of Gender-based Domestic Violence (GBDV) in Toronto


  • Akm Alamgir Access Alliance MHCS
  • Christen Kong Access Alliance MHCS



Arts-based therapy, Co-design, Intimate partner violence, Mental Health, Outcome harvesting, Peer researcher


Context: Canada hosts thousands of newcomers from disadvantaged economies. Because of cultural non-essentialism and stigma, newcomer women in Canada embrace multi-level barriers to express their everyday discrimination and trauma experienced at home. Language creates another level of challenge. To understand the under-expressed domestic violence and the level of their trauma, this study added an arts-based evidence-generation technique followed by healing strategies by expressive arts modalities for this implementation research.  Methodology: This mixed-method implementation research adopted an outcome-harvesting approach. Peer researchers conducted a collaborative review of the literature to find the best arts practices for identifying violence (type, bases, frequency, and severity), sort out the best modalities of expressive arts therapy (EAT) for such a vulnerable population group, and efficient measures to evaluate the intervention findings. Intervention: After screening for eligible participants (not in a crisis state) and their preparedness, a series of twelve sessions of EAT were conducted by a registered therapist on a closed group of newcomer participants. In a pilot phase, therapies are completed with three linguistic newcomer women groups- Arabic, Farsi/Dari, and Bengali.  Three more groups (women speaking Tigrinya, newcomer women living in a shelter, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ communities) are selected for the next therapy sessions. The three sequential modalities were movement and discussion, storytelling and cognitive, and visual art and journaling.  The key procedures were psychoeducation, self-regulation, co-regulation, strength-based, cognitive/tactile, and collective painting. The peer researcher conducted a 1-to-1 telephone interview with every participant for wellness and vulnerability checks three months after the last session. A Focus Group Discussion (FGD) is done for every group six months after the last session to assess sustainability and emerging challenges. Call into action: After triangulation of quantitative, qualitative, and arts-based evaluation findings, the study team prepares a scalable culturally appropriate practice guideline, a resource navigation toolkit for the survivors, and a policy advocacy document for necessary legislative amendment.

Author Biographies

Akm Alamgir, Access Alliance MHCS

I, Akm Alamgir, have earned a Ph.D. degree in evaluation research, a Master's degree in epidemiology, and a Bachelor's degree in medicine. I am the Director of Knowledge and Learning at Access Alliance (Toronto). I teach at York University as an Adjunct Professor at York University (Toronto) and as a guest teacher at the University of Toronto. I am an Academic Editor of the scientific journal PLOS One.

I have been a member of the Coordination and Operation Committee and of the Knowledge Mobilization Committee (Child, Youth, and Family Wellbeing cluster) of the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition (CYRRC) housed at the University of Dalhousie since March. I am a mixed-method (quantitative, qualitative, and art-based) community-based researcher on social determinants of health intersecting with health, diseases, and well-being. My area of research and advocacy focuses on developing a resilience model for youth mental health, the implementation of expressive arts therapy to heal the trauma of gender-based domestic violence, racism, refugees, newcomers, immigrants, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

I generate evidence, create KMb materials in a co-design lab, and build the capacity of peers to utilize synthesized evidence to make a change. My research partners include universities, PHAC, UHN, WCH, Sunnybrook Hospital, and community organizations. I participate in the nationwide consultation rounds for shaping the (Canadian) National Standards in Youth Mental Health and Addictions Navigation Services (NavMAP). I was an “expert reviewer” of the Canadian government for the New Frontiers in Research Fund Transformation Competition applications, and have been reviewing manuscripts submitted to the Journal of International Migration and Integration, PLOS One, and Health Promotion International. I wrote three post-secondary textbooks including one on community medicine and public health, and have over 50 peer-reviewed publications.

Current areas of research:

  1. PROCESS - PRinciples to Operationalize Community Engagement, Equity, and Sustainability in South Asian Health Research in Canada.
  2. Transformational research on racism and refugee health to achieve equitable healthcare.
  3. Implementation research with expressive arts therapy to support the survivors of newcomer GBDV.
  4. Screening of diabetes among racialized (ACB) residents aged 18-39 years.
  5. Refugee Youth Mental Health and Non-status Health

Christen Kong, Access Alliance MHCS

Christen Kong is a Health Promoter focusing on improving the mental well-being of newcomer individuals and their communities using Expressive Arts Therapy and community arts approaches. She co-creates programs with artists and an interdisciplinary team of healthcare staff to engage in meaningful art-making, mental health, and healthcare education. She is also the project coordinator for Hubs of Expressive Arts for Life – HEAL Project, a multi-year implementation research study funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) focusing on newcomer women survivors of domestic violence. She is a registered social worker and earned her Master of Social Work specializing in Human Service Management and Leadership.