PTSD and Art

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

What is PTSD?

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a psychiatric disorder resulting from a traumatic event. Terrifying experiences, such as war, abuse, or neglect, can leave traces that get stuck in our memories. When triggered, PTSD can causes symptoms such as re-experiencing the trauma, panic, or even memory lapses. Art therapy can be an important tool in addressing these types of issues.

Common treatments for PTSD include talk therapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These therapies aim to desensitize the patient from their trauma in a 'safe' environment. But talk therapies may not be enough to address all of the issues. That’s where art therapy comes in. Art therapy provides an alternative outlet for patients to express difficult feelings.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy uses creative art mediums to enable the patient to visualize their experience in a graphic, but less threatening, way. Art also helps tell the story of the trauma by creating a visual, graphic timeline. For example, a patient might make a mask or drawing of their feelings, and then discuss it with the therapist. According to art therapist, Erica Curtis, making collages of images can “help clients identify coping strategies and internal strengths to begin the journey of healing. When you bring art or creativity into a session, on a very, very basic level, it taps into other parts of a person's experience. It accesses information ... or emotions that maybe can't be accessed through talking alone”.

Thus, art therapy provides an additional tool that can help a patient visualize, and cope with, the anxiety of their traumatic experience. It's a way for the patient to separate, and disassociate, their anxiety from the memory. Says art therapist, Gretchen Miller, “Art safely gives voice to and makes a survivor’s experience of emotions, thoughts, and memories visible when words are insufficient.”

It’s important to note that these types of treatment, using visual and sensory materials, can also trigger the symptoms, and should, therefore, only be used by a trained and certified art therapist.

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