Why I Use Art in Trauma Therapy
May 9, 2022 by Sarah Earles, Clinical Supervisor/Child & Family Therapist
I am an attachment and trauma therapist, not an art therapist. I often use art in therapy, though. Why? Because art is an extremely effective intervention in trauma therapy.
It has been said that play is the language of children. It unleashes a creative side of the brain (Klein, n.d.). It is calming and soothing in its own right. It can be fun, and fun helps disarm defenses that might inhibit progress in therapy. It helps connect mind and body (Kaimal, n.d.). Art provides opportunities for co-regulation and attachment work. It is really a helpful tool.
Art is especially helpful for individuals who struggle using words to communicate. Art can help express pre-verbal trauma or give language to trauma apart from spoken words (Fabian, 2017; The Palemeira Practice.). Art can also express experiences “when words are insufficient” (Kaimal, n.d.). Art therefore broadens the therapy experience beyond what simple talk therapy can provide.
The practice of art in and of itself has therapeutic properties. The process of art can provide distance from the trauma, increasing safety for processing it (The Palmeira Practice, 2017). Making art provides bilateral stimulation, a process shown to help connect brain hemispheres, convert memories to speech, and metabolize trauma (e.g. in EMDR) (Fabian, 2017; Tripp, 2007). Processing trauma requires more than just art, but it certainly helps!
Is art the answer for every individual? No. Is it the only intervention I use as an attachment and trauma therapist? No. It is just a useful tool that I include in my partnership with families to work towards health and healing.
Fabian, R. (2017, May 23). Healing invisible wounds: Art therapy and PTSD. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/art-therapy-for-ptsd#How-art-therapy-can-help-with-PTSD
Kaimal, G. (n.d.) How art can heal. American Scientist. https://www.americanscientist.org/article/how-art-can-heal
The Palmeira Practice. (2017, May 18). How does art therapy work with trauma? https://www.thepalmeirapractice.org.uk/expertise/art-therapy-trauma
PTSDUK (n.d.) How art therapy has helped those with PTSD. https://www.ptsduk.org/how-art-therapy-has-helped-those-with-ptsd/
Tripp, T. (2007). A short term therapy approach to processing trauma: Art therapy and bilateral stimulation. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 24(4), pp. 176-183. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ791442.pdf