Art therapy and Trauma-informed art therapy

Art therapy is a combination of psychological approaches and art to address psychological, psycho-social, emotional, and behavioral issues. The goal of art therapy sessions is often to improve the individual’s overall well-being and reduce the negative symptoms of disorders. According to the American Art Therapy Association, “art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”

Trauma is often linked with a wide range of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive difficulties but it also impacts the individual’s social life because of its negative impacts on affect, tendency to isolation, interpersonal relationships and the potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that may be developed following a traumatic event.

Does colouring help with trauma?

Historically, art and trauma have been used together by individuals who had experienced trauma, in an attempt to find peace and heal from trauma. Whether it was painting, sculpting, or coloring, the process has been described helpful (peaceful, mindful) by anyone who tried getting involved with art. In the recent years, the use of creative therapies for trauma, in clinical settings, have been studied and there is a growing body of literature endorsing the need to support art therapy for trauma.

Learn more about how colouring can help with your trauma. 

What is Trauma-informed art therapy?

Trauma-informed art therapy is a combination of interventions, in which the best practices of trauma-informed therapy are combined with art interventions. This includes practices that uses bodily and sensory experiences and may include movement, sound, sensory activities, and personal narratives in addition to art interventions. You may wonder, how does trauma informed art therapy work? Well, the understanding is that the process of self-expression and creativity along with reconnecting implicit memories to explicit images can improve the post-traumatic conditions. Art therapy is often used as a healing method for childhood trauma, which could be anything from childhood physical or sexual abuse, war and war violence, terrorist attacks, violence (e.g., gun violence, policy brutality, etc), natural disasters (e.g., earthquake, tsunami,etc), losing a loved one. Art therapy can be used for single incidents or chronic and complex trauma.

How does trauma affect art?

The experience of trauma is unique to each individual and there are myriads of way to express and give an image to a traumatic experience. Often times, the use of colors (intense vs pale colors) and the use of line (harsh pointy lines vs circular smooth lines) appear in the clients’ artwork. The use of fluid vs solid materials may also impact the individual’s art post trauma. While the experience of art therapy is unique to each individual, a recent research that studied the impact of trauma informed art and play therapy for children and mothers in domestic violence shelters (in US and South Africa) confirmed that participants seemed to be able to practice new ways of connecting to self and others, re-evaluate their believes about themselves (and others), review their abilities and challenging their negative thoughts. Interestingly, children in this pilot study all wanted to show their images (recreation of their difficult memories) with their mothers.

In conclusion, the reason that we believe that are therapy is good for trauma is that in an art therapy session for trauma, accessing non-verbal memories, illustrating the hidden memories in an explicit way, and positive effects of sensory and bi-lateral movement help improve the symptoms of trauma. The art therapist helps create a dialogue between the client and the created images and hence, plays an import role in healing from trauma.

How can you find an art therapist near you?

A Master’s level art therapist, who has attended an art therapy training for trauma would be the best candidate to provide trauma-informed art therapy.