We overuse the word “trauma” so much that it has lost its meaning. From a psychological perspective, trauma is caused by a tremendous threat to a person that ignites their flee/fight/freeze/fawn response.

However, if someone is constantly overwhelmed by a foregone threat, they might develop PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).

This is where the body is stuck in a loop of a stress response; it constantly behaves as if fighting an enemy. So why is it that art has been known to work exceptionally well with painful memories?

According to research, our traumatic memories are collected in your brain’s right hemisphere, whereas speech is found in the left.

Since art is an activity of your right brain, it is easier for people suffering from PTSD to portray traumas through drawings instead of talking about them.

An abstract painting created during art class
Using art as therapy has multiple distinct advantages; one of them includes helping you with trauma. For a start, it helps reduce PTSD symptoms in patients (Source: Unsplash)
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What Is Art Therapy And How It Helps With Trauma?

Art therapy employs creative instruments such as painting, drawing, sculpting, and coloring. This treatment will help you process traumatic events in a different light.

Enabling Expressions

Art gives an outlet to people when words fail. With a certified and trained art therapist, art therapy activities will help you express complex feelings you have trouble wording.

The American Art Therapy Association provides treatment facilitated by trained therapists who use creative processes and artistic mediums to help patients delve into their emotions, foster healing, and resolve their internal conflicts.

Confronting Past Wounds

Art therapy has demonstrated marked improvement in the health of people who have PTSD.

Actually, it has been known to efficiently treat individuals suffering from anxiety, addiction, and various mental health disorders and issues.

It is a unique approach typically employed by addiction treatment centers, clinics, hospitals, and wellness centers across the country.

Consistently Providing New Avenues For Self-Improvement

This therapy can be easily integrated with other treatments to maximize treatments’ healing output for patients.

Nevertheless, this is an evolving discipline. For example, art therapy is still developing new treatment options for hard-to-treat PTSD symptoms like emotional numbing and avoidance.

Regardless, it has repeatedly demonstrated sustained advantages as an integrative and complementary option for individuals with PTSD.

Helps You Sleep And Live Better

Thirty years of rigorous research has proven that when you express creativity, it not only alters your attitude, mood, and emotion but also affects your neuro-endocrine pathways.

These control physiological outcomes like sleep, immune response, and blood pressure.

Art therapy has been known to:

  • Induce relaxation
  • Enhance self-esteem
  • Reduce pain, depression, and anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Boost immune system
  • Improve the quality of life

Since the process of art therapy takes place with a trained and certified professional, it will help guide you through the process to unlock all the healing advantages.

Offering Victims A Safe Space

By getting people in touch with their feeling and giving them a medium to express themselves, creative self-expression helps individuals reflect.

This subsequently empowers them with a sense of accomplishment, possibility, and purpose. Sessions on art therapy:

  • Offer a safer environment for authentic expression
  • Providing an opportunity to ‘verbalize’ inner emotions without the need to talk
  • Help contain those overwhelming emotions
  • Help you reconcile those feelings of guilt

Trauma affects both non-verbal and verbal memory. Therefore, talking while producing art will allow the brain to open new dimensions that it would not be able to normally.

A child painting on a piece of paper
Art therapy for children allows adolescents to express themselves. This is excellent news because they often lack the verbal tools to communicate their emotions (Source: Unsplash)

Neural Pathways Connection

Thanks to technological advances (particularly brain imaging), there are now instruments available to validate claims of art therapy’s benefits.

When you are producing art, it changes the brain’s neural pathways, which help us transform how we feel and think.

Not only that, but art therapy has also been shown to bring about a body-mind connectedness, bi-lateral stimulation, unconscious, conscious mental activity, and communication amongst cerebral cortex and limbic system function.

Why Is Art Therapy Used To Treat Trauma?

Whenever we face a traumatic event, a part of the brain that oversees language shuts down.

Similarly, the amygdala (our danger recognition center) goes on high alerts and starts visualizing the trauma memory in the form of body sensations.

Using art to express your emotions provides bodily and visually stored memories.

It subsequently enables individuals to form images and use art materials like paint and clay to reconnect them to various physical sensations.

Victims of sexual and physical abuse cut themselves off from bodily senses. So naturally, some researchers suggest that a sense of sight and touch connects directly to the fear part of our brain.

As a result, art therapy is ideal for people with traumatic memories.

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What Was Art Therapy Developed?

The principal motivation behind the current art therapy’s development in the US and Europe was to fulfill veterans’ psychological health needs.

Soldiers returning from the two World Wars, Korean War and Vietnam War, suffered from PTSD. Alarmingly, they had an exceptionally high rate of suicide amongst them.

This horrific situation prompted governments, universities, and health professionals to create novel approaches to addressing mental health ailments.

Art therapy helps people develop internal strength by providing coping strategies that help them start their healing process without reliving past experiences.

How Can Art Therapy Help Those With PTSD?

Reliving trauma can be particularly difficult, especially if nightmares and flashbacks are a part of an individual’s PTSD symptoms.

There’s No Need To Talk

People can draw on those memories through art via a drawing or sculpture to convey their feelings instead of speaking those experiences aloud.

This is particularly good for people struggling to talk about their feelings, those unsure how to express what they are going through.

There Is No Need For Urgency

Art therapy also helps people who are feeling panicked or hypervigilant, delivering an outlet for them to convey where it stems from and what it feels like.

In most cases, even they are not entirely sure where the root of it all is. Indeed, trauma has been known to affect the speech centers of your brain; hence, limiting the efficiency of conventional conversational therapies.

Fortunately, via art therapy, they can safely explore their emotions. This will help them heal, but it will also give them answers.

It is an ideal way to explore the trauma and adverse experiences safely.

There Is No Need For Confusion

It also gives them some form of clarity to their suffering.

Using this information, they can chart a timeline to understand what sequence of events led to them suffering from PTSD.

Significantly, it would assist them with processing how their feelings evolved.

Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy Activities

For years, art therapy has also complemented various conventional mental health treatments in America and beyond.

The foremost objective is to process feelings, manage behaviors, reduce anxiety and stress, and increase self-esteem.

Here are some of the mental health benefits of art therapy activities:

Self-esteem

Providing a feeling of accomplishment can increase your confidence and self-worth.

Self-discovery

Creating art will help you recognize and acknowledge feelings skulking around your subconscious mind.

Stress relief

Fighting depression, anxiety, and emotional trauma can cause extreme physical and mental stress. Creating art will help you relax your body and mind, relieving stress.

Emotional release

The most significant advantage of art therapy is providing you with a healthy outlet to express all your fears and feelings.

Complex emotions like anger or sadness cannot be communicated via words. So when you cannot explain yourself, but you constantly desire emotional release, art might help you do just that.

A watercolor palette
As a therapist, you have multiple art therapy ideas to help your patients. There is drawing, painting, and even sculpting. Art is a form of expression, and people suffering from trauma can express themselves however they are comfortable (Source: Pixabay)

Understand that you do not have to be a gifted artist to try art therapy. We humans are inherently creative, and the only thing you must do to undergo art therapy successfully is be honest with your emotions.

Once you unleash that creativity inside you, you will quickly wake up your inner artist. Some studies show that dopamine release is stimulated by creating art. Dopamine is released whenever we do a pleasurable act, and consequently, it makes us happier.

Higher levels of the feel-good transmitter can be pretty helpful, especially if you are battling depression or anxiety.

Gives More Control

Furthermore, it provides you control over your life, which is very important for people suffering from trauma. You will also be able to get to know yourself better.

During the art creation process, you will go on a self-discovery journey that will help you remove those emotional roadblocks and learn to speak with yourself and others.

Art As A Therapy Tool

Adults usually have ambivalent and complex feelings about making art. The typical responses range from dismissal to disdain to awe and sometimes even shame about their lack of artistic skills.

On the other hand, young children are eager to dance, sing, and draw without questioning their abilities.

But, unfortunately, that joy and freedom is often lost as we start to grow and unnecessarily judge our art quality.

Often, we turn into art viewers instead of active creators and lose all the advantages of creative self-expression.

It is the work of art therapists to guide people to reconnect or connect with creative practices that support mental health.

They also help individuals grapple with uncertainties and life challenges. The USA has around 6000 accredited art therapists, and this profession is only becoming more popular in other parts of the world.

If you are still unsure how art helps mental health, why not contact Superprof? Superprof has hundreds of personal development tutors near you!

So, whether it is art therapy activities, art therapy for children, or the simple question of “what is art therapy,” Superprof can help you connect with certified and experienced to start using art as therapy.

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Ian