Therapist Guide

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 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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