Trauma and Art Therapy: How Art Heals

Media by Frances Trujillo.

[ˈtroumə, ˈtrômə]
NOUN: An emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, death, abuse, neglect, or natural disaster. Long-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety, zoning out, low self-esteem, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms.

Have you ever encountered a friend, co-worker, classmate, family member, or even a stranger who has been so deeply wounded or that it has paralyzed their lives? This paralyzation is typically referred to as trauma. Moreover, the lasting effects of trauma have torn apart their sense of security so bad that they have lost all trust in the environments and relationships around them, viewing them as dangerous. Finding the strength within to start the healing journey is the most crucial step in overcoming trauma. Healing from trauma requires time, understanding, compassion, and patience, and at times, some sort of therapy. There kinds of therapy that address trauma, such as group therapy, one-on-one therapy, cognitive-processing therapy, and more. Art therapy, one of the most overlooked kinds of therapy, also helps address trauma.

Media by Frances Trujillo

Unlike other therapies, an art-based approach can often allow survivors, who have experienced the most unthinkable trauma in their lives, a safe place to direct their pain. It uses images to help the survivor explore emotions that would otherwise be unreachable or even more traumatizing if it were expressed verbally. Art is influential, and at times, it opens up doors to conversations about traumatic memories. By using art as a vehicle for healing, the survivors are at less of a risk for triggering flashbacks of the original trauma.

Charity Stafford, a house director for a home that fortifies female survivors of trauma, can attest to the power of art therapy. Stafford goes on to say, “In my experience, seeing the positive effects of art therapy in children & women has been encouraging. I would advocate for any trauma survivor to pursue art therapy as a part of their healing journey. Art therapy, with its combination of freedom, a sense of control as someone creates a piece of art, & the kinetic side of the art, can encourage healing to take place. A creative environment helps bring about healing, and it does something for an individual’s psyche. It gives them an outlet and a different mode of responding to a crisis.” Stafford continued, “Once, a male teenage client could not verbally express his emotions without becoming escalated and upset to the point of violence. So, his team introduced art therapy, and as a result, he would draw or paint his negative emotions. When he would express why he chose specific colors, it allowed him to discuss his trauma in his safe space and on his terms – through his art. It was fantastic to witness the transformation and growth. Art is influential, and I would recommend it to anyone – but specifically for those who have experienced any level of trauma.”

Survivor of the images at the top of article.
Media by Frances Trujillo.

In a recent interview with a survivor, who will remain anonymous to protect her identity, the interviewee said, “I’m able to find me through my art. Creating has helped me connect with my subconscious mind, which helps my emotional state overall. Creating, performing, scripting narratives, and writing poetry helps explain my hurts’ emotional depth. There are a lot of deep cuts from past trauma, and I’m able to come face-to-face with it and deal with them in a way that is good for the soul.”

Trauma is everywhere, and believe it or not, we are all affected by it, which is more of a reason we must understand art’s beauty and its therapeutic benefits as humans. Without a doubt, art facilitates a safe outlet when words fail. Still, it also allows a peaceful connection between the survivor’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. It unites the brain and the body, giving the survivor hope and an opportunity to flourish.

Media by Frances Trujillo

A big shout out and thank you to the Meraki Florist in Greenville, IL, for supplying the flowers for the photos.


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