Art Therapy for PTSD

For some who have suffered trauma, there aren’t enough words to explain their post-traumatic emotions. Sometimes those words are imprisoned within their unconscious, restricting them from verbalizing their emotions.

Researchers have found that the old saying, "a picture can speak a thousand words" is very true in expressive arts therapy for patients who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to heal, patients need to express their emotions, work through them, and regain a positive focus. Studies have shown that some patients with PTSD can find a way to healing by expressing themselves through art.

What Can’t Be Expressed With Words

Studies reveal that 70 percent of US adults have felt some sort of trauma in their lives. They may have witnessed or been a victim of an accident, violence, war, or abuse. Of these, 20 percent will eventually develop PTSD.

During therapy, some of these patients have repressed their traumatic experiences and have a difficult time recalling or explaining their feelings. Multiple studies have been conducted on how art can release these repressed emotions.

Researchers believe that art therapy is so successful because creativity takes place in the same part of the brain as visual memories. The right-brain hemisphere is the artsy side. It also stores visual memories. Researchers suggest that as the right-brain is engaged in art, it is more closely connected with those repressed visions that are stored in the same part of the brain, and more able to pull those images onto paper, clay, or with another creative art medium.

Creative Expression for Children

Art therapy is especially helpful in healing children with PTSD. Young children have a more limited vocabulary and sense of verbal expression than an adult. Conversations with a therapist are unlikely to flow as well as their marker on a friendly piece of paper.

Through painting, chalk, crayons, or markers, young children can draw themselves and others in those situations that haunt them. Pain, insecurity, and fear can reveal themselves in Crayola tears, frowns, and color.

A Portal to Healing for Soldiers

Children aren’t the only individuals to benefit from creative arts therapy. Cheryl Miller, of Concordia University’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies, has found that art can also help military personal heal. She studied soldiers, between the ages of 28 and 56, who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Twice a week the soldiers met in groups and used a variety of art materials to help heal their nightmares, anxiety, depression, pain, loneliness, and insomnia. Miller says that as the veterans worked, they also shared with others in the group. Their artwork brought them together in discussion and shared emotion.

Researchers see art therapy as a successful healing tool to help those with PTSD re-connect with others, regain some joy in an activity, and find an outlet that offers some hope for healing.