Childhood Trauma and Art Therapy: Supporting Well-being and Healing

May 10, 2018

Today is SAMHSA’s Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and this year’s focus is on “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma” and ways that programs and services helping youth can become more trauma informed.  In honor of CMHAD, this post is dedicated to providing resources and re-publishing content that can bring awareness to the value of trauma informed care, as well as the benefits of art therapy in trauma intervention with children and adolescents.

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Lately the topic of trauma informed care has attracted mainstream attention. In March, 60 Minutes aired a segment with Oprah Winfrey interviewing Dr. Bruce Perry which helped raise important public awareness about childhood trauma and the value of trauma informed care.

Some key considerations to remember:

About Trauma Informed Care | creativity in motion

(C) 2017 Gretchen Miller

For many survivors of childhood trauma, the use of art therapy supports many of the key messages shared during the 60 minutes broadcast.  Here are some of art therapy’s unique benefits to support survivors of developmental trauma and adverse childhood experiences:

  • Art therapy provides a visual voice for a survivor’s experiences, emotions, and thoughts to be seen and heard through the creative process and therapeutic relationship with the art therapist. It is not uncommon for survivors of trauma to experience limitations or apprehension with expressing themselves through words alone.
  • Art making, as a sensory-based intervention can help safely express and manage or access content from lower parts of the brain where traumatic experiences and implicit memory live without words. This is why verbal expression can be insufficient, anxiety provoking, and inadequate for many survivors.
  • When a survivor engages in art therapy they are offered with the opportunity make choices and decisions through the creative process that helps create new ways of seeing the self, empower resiliency, and help envision their recovery path ahead.

Today’s CMHAD events include “a national event in Washington, DC. Kicking off the evening will be a pre-event that begins at 6:30 pm EST that will debut a video about art therapy and trauma. At 7 pm EST an interactive town hall discussion on strategies for making child-serving systems more trauma-informed will take place with those in attendance and online. You can watch the webcast live here and join the discussion on social media by using the hashtag #HeroesofHope.

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Resources

Art Therapy in Action: Trauma (American Art Therapy Association Video)- How art therapy can help individuals or families who have experienced trauma express what they’ve been through safely, and tell their stories without needing to talk.

The Value of Art Expression in Trauma-Informed Work – The following American Art Therapy Association and National Institute for Trauma and Loss Institute resource summarizes a few of the important themes and considerations connected to trauma-informed work and how the process of art-making can help to achieve grounding, reflection and growth.

Bruce Perry’s Impact: Considerations for Art Therapy & Children from Violent Homes – Brief presentation about how Dr. Bruce Perry’s work has influenced an art therapist’s art therapy & trauma work with children from violent homes. Presented as part of a panel at the 2008 American Art Therapy Association conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

How Art Therapy Can Help Children Facing Mental Health Challenges (Huffington Post)

SAMHSA’s Resources for Child Trauma Informed Care

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services- Trauma & Children

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