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Using Art Therapy to Treat Trauma

Nicole Hoffmann, PLMHP, ATR-P- January 20, 2022

Trauma is defined as an event during which an individual has experienced a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others. It can also be defined as any type of negative event and how the individual experiencing the event processes and assigns meaning to it. There are different types of trauma, including complex trauma and cumulative trauma. Complex trauma stems from early interpersonal events that interrupt healthy attachment, while cumulative trauma is the experience of two or more different types of trauma in one’s lifetime. Examples of trauma can include loss of loved ones, abuse or neglect, war, natural disasters, and negative relationships or random events. People who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of trauma can experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, feelings of panic, decreased quality of sleep, increased alcohol or drug use, and numbness or dissociation. There are several therapeutic treatments for trauma, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), as well as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. (TF-CBT). Art therapy can be used in combination with either of these modalities to effectively treat trauma, in people of all ages and backgrounds. Some types of trauma are very difficult or impossible to verbally express. Art therapy can help treat trauma by creating new or different ways of recalling the trauma in a safe manner, as well as accessing the emotions and memories associated with that trauma. Creating art in response to trauma can reconstruct the experience in a nonverbal manner, and provide closure to move beyond the event. It is very important to express these emotions and memories in a safe space, and to have a strong relationship between the client and therapist. Ultimately, a client’s self-worth can be strengthened, and hope for the future can be instilled, using art-making to express traumatic feelings.

Several therapists at Creative Counseling and Studio are certified to perform EMDR and TF-CBT with their clients. There are also three art therapists on staff. For more information about EMDR, TF-CBT and how art therapy can help treat various forms of trauma, please contact Creative Counseling and Studio at (402) 401-4445 or visit www.creativecounselingandstudio.com. Sources: Naff, Kristina (2014). A Framework for Treating Cumulative Trauma with Art Therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 31(2), pp. 79-86. Nili Sigal & Rob (2021) Dual perspectives on art therapy and EMDR for the treatment of complex childhood trauma, International Journal of Art Therapy, 26:1-2, 37-46, DOI: 10.1080/17454832.2021.1906288

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