Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors

Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors

Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors

Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors


Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors demonstrates how non-verbal therapies such as art and music therapy, sandplay, psychodrama, and storytelling can be used to aid the recovery of trauma victims.


Man creates, as it were, out of his mortal wounds.

Joost A.M. Meerloo, M.D. (1968, p.22)

From time immemorial, people of all ages have turned to play and to the arts to deal not only with the stresses of everyday life, but also to cope with trauma-experiences that are too overwhelming for the ego to assimilate. From the soothing of David's biblical harp to the catharsis of classic Greek drama, the arts have offered solace to those under stress. Children play doctor, adolescents write poetry, and this very fact, that creative activity is therapeutic, is the main reason for the existence of the expressive arts therapies as helping professions.

Art therapy, for example, has its roots in the art of the mentally ill, itself a response to the terror of psychosis—a loss of contact with both the self and the world. Some events are so devastating that words fail, and the arts become the best way to say what presses for release. In the spontaneous reaction to the attacks of 9/11, people of all ages created drawings, murals, and shrines, not only in New York but around the world (Rubin 2004).

Whether the trauma is a sudden shock or a prolonged strain, the arts can help. In fact, making creative activities available to people who have suffered trauma is a form of “secondary prevention”—helping those who are at increased risk for psychological problems. Like medicating at the first sign of an infection, offering the arts to people who are in the throes of responding to overwhelming events may well prevent more serious and prolonged emotional damage.

Even later, creating can be healing. Thirty years after an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, a television station asked survivors to send in pictures of their memories. They were astonished by the response, as hundreds of adults welcomed the opportunity to deal with the still painful experience by creating images (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation 1977).

That art can give meaning to a life twisted by trauma was eloquently demonstrated in the paintings of Frida Kahlo, whose spine and pelvis were shattered in an accident at age 18, leaving her with chronic pain and constant threat of illness. As she once said, “The only thing I know is that I

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