Art Therapy and PTSD
The Expressive Arts Meet Neurobiology
Healing Through Art Therapy
Usually 9 out 10 people have no idea what “art therapy” means. It is distinguished to comply with patients suffering with PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that results from the experience or witnessing of traumatic or life threatening events (Iribarren, 503). There are many approaches to help victims cope with mental illness. Art therapy is very effective for treating mental illness disorders such as PTSD and should be further sought to be used as a treatment method.
Fear and anxiety, depression and the obliviousness to oppression is just a small symptom description of PTSD. One of the most common indications of PTSD is the lack of sleeping, continuous fatigue, low self esteem, reliving the past through nightmares and flashbacks. PTSD roused soon after the Vietnam Conflict. Da Costa’s Syndrome, known to be a PTSD- like disorder during the Civil War, manifested alike symptoms such as fatigue, dyspnea, a sighing respiration, palpitation, sweating, tremor, anxiety, panic attacks and having the necessity to isolate from society (Iribarren, 504). Although sexual abuse and military combat are known to be the main causes of PTSD, there are more down the list such as: extended combat, terrorism, accidents, neglect, and violent physical abuse. PTSD is incurable but there are various methods to subside symptoms. Typically, someone could just make multiple visits to the psychiatrist for help but in the end, it is unbearable to open up about trauma experiences. Over all, feelings are hard to express verbally when there is an odd feeling of mistrust and confidence in the relationship between the victim and therapist which is why art therapy has been rising as an alternative for a better healing method.
Art therapy is a very unique way to approach understanding of a victim’s pain caused by their traumatic experience(s). Art therapy is where expressive art meets neurobiology using color psychology and behavior analyzation to further identify the roots to a patient’s suffering. Art therapists find it easier to connect with their patients with non-verbal sessions because it is harder to talk about feelings than expressing them through behavior, images, drawings and cognitive insight. Imagery has been recognized as vital to healing. Images, simply put, is the language of the unconscious. Images can yield information; create understanding; evoke expressions; and transform thinking, feeling, and acting (Horowitz, 1983). Art can greatly enhance the experience insight; it is concrete and visual, and it can convey multiple unconscious feelings and ideas (Rubin, 2001).
Art therapy allows for patients to trust their therapist when they have control in what can be revealed through expression in their art and the facility to then interpret their images without feeling misunderstood and ignored. Trauma is being processed as the victim recalls the event(s) to portray their feelings through art.
Therapists not only understand the events that the patient may be hurting from through the images they create, they also analyze the behavior whilst the patient is expressing their feelings through art. Are they rigid and violent? Smooth and calm? Sad or nervous? Skeptical or unsure? It all helps the therapist distinguish attributes to the roots of emotions being evoked and the trauma itself.
Often, [patients] have no words available to express their deep feelings. In many cases, the image comes first and the understanding of the visualization comes later (Riley, 56). Once the patient is complete with their image, verbal interpretation comes in place. By this time, trust and confidence is built because they have a backbone of evidence to support what they want the therapist to comprehend. Verbal dialogue is easier to then approach as the visualization makes the environment feel nonthreatening. Art as language of therapy, combined with verbal dialogue, uses all of our capabilities to find a more successful resolution to our difficulties (Shirley, 54).
Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Just opening to some stranger vulnerability and insecurity within oneself takes a big place. This is where secrets are buried even if the subject shows trust and confidence to open up. Many times due to very complex scenarios or cases, where abuse is taking place, the victim may be trained to not tell anyone about the situation by the perpetrator. The thing is, perpetrators don’t really think about other ways their prey can reveal things without verbal communication. Victims might be blackmailed to not discuss anything relating to the events, but they do not have to talk about it to get proper help. This is one of the greatest ways art therapy helps therapist help people struggling with getting out of environments containing sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse that causes PTSD and/or depression. Art is an invitation to begin verbal dialogue. Therefore, art therapy is a fusion of two forms of communication, one visual and one verbal (Riley, 57).
Art therapy is an effective treatment for people that experience any type of mental illness or disorder. Resolving conflicts, improving interpersonal skills and relationships, reducing emotional pain and stress as well as achieving personal insight about life and having hope again. Providing the best way to get the best out of life after traumatic events, art therapy makes it easier to obtain.
Horowitz, M. (1983) Image formation and psychotherapy. New, York : Jason Aronson
Iribarren, Javier. “POst-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Evidence- Based Research for the Third
Millennium.” The Author (2005): 80-86. Oxford University Press. All Rights Reserve
Web. 20 August 2018.
Riley, Shirley. “Art herapy with Adolescents.” Toolbox 175 (2001): 54-57. Web. 20. August 2018.
Rubin, J. A. (2001) Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique (2nd Ed.). Philadelphia