You are currently viewing Healing with Art: Trauma Recovery through Art Therapy… a Guest Blog Post by Kelly Gupta Holley, Art Therapist and Counselor

Healing with Art: Trauma Recovery through Art Therapy… a Guest Blog Post by Kelly Gupta Holley, Art Therapist and Counselor

As an art therapist, I find great excitement  and joy in sharing about art therapy and its many benefits. I’ve seen it help numerous clients of all ages meet various therapy goals, gain insight, find self-compassion, make progress in trauma recovery, and so much more. Art therapy has so many possibilities for supporting mental health, especially when a client has struggled to make progress in talk therapy.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health therapy that focuses on use of art processes and materials to facilitate healing. It provides a non-verbal means of expression within the therapy space, allowing clients to connect with their emotions and thoughts in a unique way. Art therapists may utilize a variety of art materials and techniques during therapy sessions, depending on the needs and goals of each individual client. Through drawing, painting, collage, and more, individuals can externalize their internal struggles and complex feelings, gaining a new perspective and increased self-awareness.

While clients often experience nervousness while creating art at the beginning of art therapy treatment, it is a myth that you need to have any art skill or experience to benefit from art therapy. Clients of any age and skill-level have the ability to work toward therapy goals in art therapy. Rather than the artwork being critiqued or judged like it might be in an art class, the art is seen as a way to explore a feeling, connect with the self, and process experiences. Art therapists utilize the art-making process with compassion and open-mindedness.

The Effects of Trauma and Finding Support

Trauma is something that deeply impacts both the mind and body. Post-traumatic stress symptoms can show up after any traumatic event or recurring traumatic experience such as childhood trauma, emotional abuse, or medical trauma.  The effects of trauma can show up in day-to-day life regardless of the type of experience. These impactful experiences often leave individuals feeling anxious, depressed, or stuck. 

There are many trauma therapy approaches, and individuals can find an approach that resonates with their needs and preferences. Whether it’s based in cognitive-behavioral techniques that focus on changing negative thought patterns, somatic therapies that address the physical manifestations of trauma, or any other approach, clients have the freedom to try any combination of approaches to find what fits best. Additionally, art therapy can be a powerful option for individuals recovering from trauma. Art therapy can help clients rebuild their sense of safety, empowerment, and resilience, all of which are often needed in the trauma recovery process.

Art Therapy for Trauma Recovery

Art therapy supports clients in their healing process when verbal trauma processing isn’t quite working or doesn’t feel like the right fit. Oftentimes, clients come to therapy for trauma because they’ve found their symptoms to be a barrier in their life. They want to enjoy life, feel empowered, and have healthy relationships, but they keep hitting roadblocks. They may be having trouble connecting with their emotions, feeling grounded and present, or struggling to cope with triggers. Art therapy allows clients to use an alternative form of expression, rather than only talking, to work through the pain of trauma. 

Working with a registered art therapist can help these clients identify and process their current barriers to healing, make specific goals, build practical skills, and find empowerment to make the necessary changes. In addition to processing completed artwork with the art therapist, the creative process itself can support the client in practicing mindfulness, non-judgment, self-compassion, and emotional expression. Through the guidance of the art therapist, clients learn to make connections between their artwork and their lived experiences, gaining insight into their emotions, beliefs, triggers, and coping mechanisms.

As clients engage in the art-making process, they explore their story and gradually piece together fragmented aspects of their identity that were fractured through the trauma. They may do so through various art therapy techniques such as an altered book, art journaling, creating a safe place, and depicting various emotions related to past experiences. This process of integration fosters a sense of clarity and self-understanding, which allows for healing and growth.

How to Find an Art Therapist for Trauma Therapy

When looking for an art therapist for trauma therapy, there are a few aspects to consider:

  1. Art Therapist Credentials

In the United States, art therapists utilize the Art Therapy Credentials Board to verify education and experience of the clinician. You may use the ATCB directory to confirm an art therapist’s qualifications. The credentials to look for are ATR-P, ATR, and ATR-BC. Many states in the US are in the process of developing a license for art therapy. If you live in a state that has an art therapy license option, you may also ask the art therapist about their licensure status. 

  1. Experience and Approach

When choosing an art therapist, you might consider their past experience and how it relates to what you need. For example, if you’re seeking therapy for your experience as an adult with childhood trauma, you might ask them about their experience in treating childhood trauma in adult clients. Each art therapist may approach the therapy process differently, so asking about the session structure, the therapist’s beliefs about therapy, and any other questions you may have is a great idea.

  1. Logistics and Compatibility 

Lastly, the schedule, cost, and personality of the therapist are all important factors to consider. You might consider using your insurance or paying out-of-pocket, when you would need to meet for sessions, and what kind of relationship you hope to have with the art therapist. For example, do you prefer a more structured and serious therapist or a more casual and lighthearted therapist? You are allowed to choose what makes you feel most comfortable.

Next Steps in Trauma Healing

In the journey of trauma recovery, art therapy offers a rich environment to work through trauma-related challenges such as perfectionism, low self-worth, negative self-talk, relationship dynamics, and navigating difficult emotions. Clients in art therapy often grow in a variety of skills such as frustration tolerance, mindfulness skills, and identifying needs and desires. I acknowledge the challenge in pursuing therapy, as it takes courage and vulnerability to communicate a need for support. When you’re ready to begin the search for support through trauma therapy, remember that the pursuit of healing is valid. With the support of an art therapist, trauma healing through art therapy can be an empowering and transformative experience.

For more of Kelly’s writing, check out her blog at https://www.understandingself.me/blog

If you’re interested in pursuing art therapy as part of your trauma recovery plan, contact Kelly at https://www.understandingself.me/contact or kelly@understandingself.me

More information about art therapy for trauma can be found at https://www.understandingself.me/art-therapy-for-trauma.