Moving forward after trauma...

Using Art Therapy to integrate the trauma story into the present and moving forward.

Recovery does not necessarily mean complete freedom from post-traumatic affects, but is about finding the balance, and the ability to live in the present without being overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of the past.

Through the use of art, and in a supportive setting, the mind can be encouraged to let go of the trauma by transferring the images and ideas into an object of their creation, making painful and frightening events concrete and releasing them.

Art making is a sensory experience using the hands and can be self-soothing. It can also strengthen aspects of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive wellbeing.

Art therapy can help clients discover and develop new coping skills. Through self-regulation, self-awareness and self-soothing techniques, clients can learn ways to recognise their thought patterns, bring awareness to them and adjust them to uncover new ways of coping. In this way, a person is more likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn.

Art therapy can help clients by creating a new story and a new purpose, that encourages empowerment, post-traumatic growth, resilience, optimism, and self-directed healing. This leads to a more balanced dual existence: the self who suffered that experience, and the person who is here today.

Furthermore, healing can be encouraged with art therapy activities that help to integrate the images, sounds and sensations of trauma into a coherent story belonging to the past, putting the traumatic event into its proper place in the overall arc of one’s life. In effect, this means that intrusive memories don’t dominate a client’s existence, they simply become part of the ongoing evolving story of one’s life.

The results here, mean that the client can experience the dual reality of a secure and safe present, living side by side with the reality of their past.

References and resources:

Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2015. Penguin UK.

Handbook of Art Therapy 2nd Ed. Cathy A. Malchiodi. 2012. Guilford Publications.

Art Therapy Sourcebook. Cathy A. Malchiodi. 2006. McGraw-Hill Education.