Trauma Healing and Art Therapy
What is Trauma?
Trauma is the experience of any event (or series of events) which has wounded us emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. Everyone responds to trauma differently, and it can have lasting impacts on our bodies, minds and spirits. Symptoms of trauma can include, but are not limited to: anxiety, depression, chronic pain, fatigue, addiction, chronic stress, low self-esteem, self-harm, and suicidality.
Trauma can be:
- Personal: A single terrifying event, or series of events that threatens our safety and wellbeing.
- Complex: Re-occurring and overlapping events such as abuse, neglect or bullying, over a long period of time.
- Intergenerational: Trauma, if unhealed, can be passed down both genetically and through the cycle of abuse.
- Vicarious: The caring for or witnessing of others who have been traumatized.
- Historical/Systemic: The experience of living in a society or system that is not structured to support you, and the stories/beliefs that are perpetuated to undermine you.
- Medical: The experience of serious illness, procedure/surgery, or medical malpractice.
The good news is that trauma can be healed. All of us have the capacity to learn how to process and move through our trauma, and we might benefit from support from others to help us with this.
Important things to remember about Trauma:
- It can affect you and it can be healed even if you don’t remember the details of the traumatic event(s).
- It can cause uncomfortable and sometimes painful physical symptoms even if the trauma was not physical in nature.
- There is not just one way to heal trauma. Trauma needs an individualized approach that often involves body-based awareness.
How Does Trauma Healing Work?
Trauma often has lasting impacts on the way our bodies move and feel, and healing occurs when we are able to access the resilience and wisdom of our bodies.
This can be done on your own, perhaps with the support of an instructional book (such as one of the resources listed below), and it can also be done with the support of others. Having a trusted friend, family member, or therapist there with you can help you regulate your emotions and support you if you become overwhelmed.
You do not have to re-visit the specifics of the traumatic event in order to heal your trauma. Trauma healing often occurs in the nervous system, and it does not always feel “logical”. Once you can trust yourself and your body to safely explore the feelings around the event(s), you can then complete the processes of trauma healing that our bodies are naturally capable of. This will help you to access your feelings of inner strength and self-compassion.
What is Trauma-Informed Art Therapy?
Art has been used as a healing practice throughout much of time and in many cultures. In art therapy, we draw on this wisdom to learn how art can help us in our own trauma healing. Trauma-informed art therapy recognizes that there are stages to trauma healing, and it begins with creating a sense of stability and building our own internal resources.
Art-making is naturally soothing and can help us calm down when we are overwhelmed; working through the trauma in a safe way can increase our distress tolerance over time. Art can also help us to express our emotions when we do not have the words to speak them. A trauma-informed art therapist understands that art aids us in that natural process of trauma recovery, and we will be able to support you in using art for healing.
You do not have to be “good” at art to benefit from art-making! Art therapy is for anyone who wishes to be supported in their healing journey. In an art therapy session, we can doodle, colour, paint, draw, sculpt, even dance and make music! This can help us feel calm, and gain insight into how to heal from our trauma. Art is something that can always be there to lend a helping hand.
Remember, your trauma healing journey will be unique, and there are many ways to approach it. Art can be a wonderful tool in helping to heal symptoms of trauma, however it is not the only tool! There are many resources available. Here are some book recommendations that can help you get started on understanding what approach will be best for you:
- Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body (2008) by Peter Levine.
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2015) by Bessel Van der Kolk.
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (2017) by Resmaa Menakem.
If you feel that art therapy might be right for you or your child, please contact us at email@example.com to set up a free 15-minute consultation. We will be happy to help you find the right resources for your healing journey.