Expressive Arts: An Exploration of its benefits in Trauma Recovery

Updated: Nov 29, 2019



Sometimes we go through things that we can barely put into words. The way the memory is stored in our mind is jumbled. Our feelings about it are mixed up. Our understanding of what it means is confusing. We often call these experiences “adverse” or otherwise referred to as “trauma.” In a previous blog post, I shared the primary model I use with clients effective in trauma work being EMDR therapy. While EMDR is an exceptional model for building adaptive networks and healing the traumatized brain, I’d like this blog to focus on additional resources that can be useful in the healing process.

Each of the following forms of art have their own unique way of tapping into what lies beneath the surface and serve as mediums for release and integration from the elusive mind into our consciousness. Here, we can make sense, find meaning, and liberation from our past disparaging narratives. Some common forms of art are:

  1. Painting

  2. Drawing

  3. Sculpting

  4. Collage-work

What do all of the above have in common as related to healing from trauma? They all allow for tactile and visual connection to the work itself. The experience of putting a paint brush to canvas or pencil to paper and placing the colors in relationship to feeling the corresponding emotions is transcendental. I feel anger and then- there it is, messy frantic red on a piece of paper in front of me. The same can be said for sculpting or collage-work. I select an image or manifest a 3D creation that I can actually touch. I take what is inside of me and let it out.

  1. Poetry

  2. Storytelling

  3. Song Writing

  4. Psychodrama

Psychodrama has long been used in trauma work. One of the most prominent therapists to utilize this was Virginia Satir, who created what she termed, family sculpting. While psychodrama is the only one to also have a real visual component outside of our imagination, they all have the commonality of authoring a story. They are opportunities to reclaim the voice and power we may have lost in the narrative. We choose the antagonist, protagonist, what parts to give significance to, and ultimately the ending. It is truly empowering to be in control of something that we may have never felt in control of before.

Though there are many other methods of expressive arts, I selected these due to being some of the most well-known. Alone, they are great for exploring the thoughts and emotions we may have stored inside of us and allow for some release of those things. However, they don’t remove those hurtful memories. Ideally, using expressive arts in conjunction with a brain-based model of therapy such as EMDR therapy can make for a powerful healing practice.

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