Art Therapy and Childhood Trauma

Art therapy is a regulated mental health profession using the creative process to enhance a patient’s experience in a safe.


Art therapy is a regulated
mental health profession using the creative process
to enhance a patient’s experience in a safe
environment, structured by the therapist, who
facilitates, helps facilitate that process
for the client. Art therapy, it really
is all about how to give voice to things that may
be unspeakable for one reason or another,
and again, having the therapeutic benefit of
the client feeling as if they’re not the only
person in the world who’s ever felt this way, and
that somebody else can understand what’s
happened to them. Having the art is a way to
see the future to see who they are, and to express
themselves, is really helpful … and how people
are seeing who they are, compared to how they feel
on the inside, compared to the exterior self. It’s about the process,
the art-making, not the final product. A lot of these kids do
have histories of trauma and so the ability to, the
way the art making process taps into that nonverbal
part of the brain and helps them to eventually
uncover some of the more deeply seeded traumatic
experience they’ve been through. And then through working
with an art therapist who facilitates the process of
let’s bring that material forward to a verbal level,
where they could start to work it out and move past
some of that traumatic history. We do it in such a way
that not only are we meeting people where they
are, but we’re trying to make sure that we’re using
the art so that they feel their particular lens is
reflected and respected, so no matter what their
cultural, racial, ethnic background is, that they
can see that art can be a vehicle for them to
explore whatever the presenting concerns are. The notion that there is
something wrong with them is sort of an anathema to
adolescents, they really don’t like that idea, so
they’re angry about their life circumstances,
and they’re angry that somebody’s told them they
have to get some help. The work so again is how
to help them take the feeling that’s in here,
honor it, believe that it has reason to be there. It’s not because they’re
a bad kid, that they have reasons why they
feel the way they do. The work was all about
how to take this feeling that’s inside, get it out
in a visible form, and then have the therapeutic
benefit of somebody else in the world getting
it and being able to understand what had been
communicated visually. What comes to mind is a
case that I currently have with a young girl who is
now five, but at the age of three, she was playing
on a balcony and a stray bullet, you know she’s
living in a community where there’s community
violence, and she was shot in the leg. And her response to that
trauma was to stop talking to anyone but
immediate family. I mean, despite the fact
that she very, did not talk to me in the
beginning, she responded to art making and I met
her where she was and allowed her to draw
whatever she wanted to do. She eventually at the
beginning of this school year transformed into this
typical youngster who talks to her teachers,
went back to the previous teacher, talked to her,
and again, I’m like, what did I do other than allow
her to kind of tell her story along
with the family? I used some art-making
activities to even engage the family and what that
whole experience was like for them and to go, kind
of step by step through a series of drawings
to tell their story. People are experiencing
all kinds of different traumas, but one thing
that has kept me going, no matter how challenging
these cases are, is the response to using
art therapy.

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