How does art therapy help people work through with trauma and loss

How does art therapy help people
work through with trauma and loss?
Barbara McIntyre, Ph.D.,
[email protected]
Definition of Trauma
Trauma occurs whenever an external threat overwhelms
a person’s coping resources. (definition from M. Hoersch
presentation, 2013)
The characteristics of trauma include:
1. Picture-individual has an emotionally charged mental
picture of the event
2. Timing-the event was sudden or unexpected
3. Violent-the event is perceived as being violent or forceful
4.Overwhelming-the event is perceived as being too
expansive to deal with
5. Safety-the event leaves the individual feeling that they or
loved ones are unsafe or threatened
Art therapy provides access to visual
• We have both an explicit and an implicit
• The explicit memory is cognitive based and
often bypassed when a trauma occurs
• The implicit memory is visual and sensory
based. Art expression is a natural way to
access this memory where the trauma event is
Art therapy provides safety
• People need
safety to express
emotions. With
art, one can
relax and
express thoughts
and feelings at
one’s own pace.
Research Evidence
• Neurological researchers are speculating that
a possible cause for PTSD may be the
exclusion of traumatic memories from explicit
memory storage, and that art may provide a
bridge between implicit and explicit memory
(Malchiodi, 2003)
From art to words; the bridge
• Art therapy
producing a
product that can
be used
therapeutically for
the client to give
words to the
images created.
Trauma and Development
• When a trauma
occurs in one’s
development is
stages is key in a
healthy life.
Developmental issues
• Art therapy
provides mirroring,
distance and
containment for
clients who are
working on
mastering missed
Developmental issues
• Affect regulation (a task that is developed with
attachment) is one that is organized nonverbally. Art therapy is a natural avenue for
Reconnecting with others
• Art expression is a
superior way to
communicate the
devastating effects
of trauma and
abuse, it commands
empathy from the
viewer (a picture is
worth a thousand
Increases Self-esteem
• When products that are satisfying to the client
are created, there is an increase in
empowerment and esteem.
Art Therapists
• Art therapists are professionals trained in both
art and therapy. They are knowledgeable of
human development, psychological theories,
clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and
artistic traditions, and the healing potential of
art. They use art in treatment, assessment,
research and provide consultation to allied
professionals. Art therapists receive credentials
through The American Art Therapy
Association web site is

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