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10 ways art therapy helps heal the effects of trauma
Posted in Trauma and Abuse - 0 Comments

art therapy

In the United States, statistics show that 70 percent of adults have experienced some form of traumatic event during their lifetimes. Of these, 20 percent will go on to develop a disordered response to the trauma called post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is defined as:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Symptoms may appear several months after the traumatic event occurred.

Treating an individual, who has either experienced a significant traumatic event, whether or not they have developed PTSD, is difficult. Many times the traumatized person simply represses the memory of the event as a protective mechanism. The pain is so intense that the memories are blocked, making it difficult for standard psychotherapy to progress.

One therapeutic tool which has shown to be highly effective in treating victims of a trauma is art therapy. Here are 10 ways that art therapy can benefit a person suffering from trauma:

  1. Some emotions are more easily expressed through art than verbal language. There is something freeing about using an art medium to describe what is going on inside emotionally, knowing that there is no right or wrong way of doing an artistic impression. Someone who has experienced an intense trauma may have difficulty finding the words, and just clam up. Art gives them a voice.
  1. Art therapy utilizes the right hemisphere of the brain where thoughts are processed more visually. By accessing this side of the brain, art therapy has been successful in uncovering repressed and unconscious memories and images.
  1. By the instruction of an art therapist, a patient can create what is referred to as a “safe place,” using art media to make a visual image of what they perceive as a safe environment. From this vantage point the patient can then elaborate over time, using items they select to represent various stressors or perpetrators, to describe how their safe place was invaded.
  1. A picture tells a thousand words, and in the practice of art therapy with trauma or abuse victims, these images created by the victim are very powerful tools for the therapist. Seeing, just by the colors selected to depict a scene, or the juxtaposition of the key people in the scene, their expressions and placement in the space are all clues for an art therapist to interpret underlying issues that may help with the therapeutic treatment of the victim.
  1. There is evidence that the use of art therapy with victims of abuse or trauma can reduce levels of depression and raise self-esteem.
  1. Emotions such as anger and rage, which are usually controlled and not permitted to be expressed openly, can be explosive and cathartic if expressed in art. Through use of carefully selected materials and colors, a deeply wounded person who has profound anger following a trauma is able to purge these strong emotions in the form of art.
  1. A patient can be shown, through her expression in art, how the symptoms she is experiencing after a trauma are actually adaptive coping strategies during the time period that she is processing the pain, coming to grips with the impact of the trauma on her life, and attempting to survive.
  1. Art therapy can give voice to a patient’s inability to communicate the devastating effects of the trauma or abuse, since much of the horror of it is literally beyond words. The use of straightforward, verbal language often just skims the surface, skipping over the depths of the pain and suffering that she is actually experiencing.
  1. Using creative arts in therapy will help a patient to reconnect with her inner sense of self, which has been destroyed as a result of abuse or trauma, as well as promote a sense of empowerment.
  1. Art therapy can use the images and art pieces created by the patient over time to assess clinical progress by acknowledging the changes in the content, color and overall tone of the art.

Art therapy is a part of overall brain wellness that can also include other program elements such as equine therapy, yoga, meditation and nutritional counseling. These elements can be combined with art therapy as support. When seeking treatment for trauma and abuse and are interested in joining an art therapy group, make sure to check to see if the treatment center provides a certified art therapist.

If you would like further information about treatment for coping with a traumatic event and to learn more about the art therapist at Sovereign Health of Arizona, please call 866-598-5661 to speak with a member of our admissions team.


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