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The Benefits of Art Therapy for People with PTSD

written by: Kelly Marquize • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 12/21/2010

Art therapy has many beneficial components for those with PTSD. It can promote self-worth, boost confidence, and promote healing. Read on to learn more about this often unheard of therapy.

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    The Benefits of Art Therapy

    Art therapy and PTSD are quickly becoming acquainted with one another. The benefits of art therapy for people with PTSD are many, as art therapy provides a safe avenue for relieving stress and anxiety while at the same time promoting healing. As an individual with PTSD begins to use art to express their emotions, they also begin to have a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Art therapy can play a crucial role in recovery of PTSD by promoting creativity and providing an atmosphere of safety and encouragement. (George Washington University, 2010).

    Art therapy can be beneficial to many people who struggle with emotional problems, but in PTSD it is especially helpful because many times, the person does not know how to verbalize the way they feel. In fact, Breat and Ostroff (1985) claim that traumatic experiences are encoded in the non-verbal pathways of the mind. Through art, they quickly learn that they can express their feelings without having to use words. Because humans are naturally creative, art therapy can draw on this natural tendency and provide an outlet for repressed and negative feelings.

    By learning how to express these emotions in a healthy way, people with PTSD can expel negative feelings through art rather than in self-destructive ways. Using self-expression can bring a sense of well being, achievement, ans self-worth. Together, these factors are a powerful tool that can indeed bring healing to PTSD and allow the individual to finally begin to enjoy life again.

    Art therapy can be extremely helpful for children who have PTSD. Often times, children fall prey to sexual, physical and emotional abuse and do not know how to articulate or fully comprehend what has happened to them. Using art therapy in children will give them a chance to express feelings that are just too complex to put into words. It can also help the therapists to understand the extent of the abuse that has caused PTSD.

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    Types of Art Therapy

    Artists brushes 

    There are three major categories in art therapy: studio-based therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy. Within these categories, you can expect to find the following forms of artistic expression:

    • Drawing- this is perhaps the simplest form of art therapy, as it does not require anything but a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.
    • Painting- using colors can be useful in self-expression; color choice may also help the therapist better understand their client.
    • Sculpting- this “hands on" approach can be very therapeutic as the client may feel that the sculpting material is an extension of themselves.
    • Mosaic Art- this requires the client to use cognitive and problem-solving skills and can be an effective way to sharpen coping skills.
    • Clay Art- like sculpting, clay art can be seen as an extension of the artists hands and be beneficial in the healing process.
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    Conclusion

    Art therapy and PTSD are not two terms people usually hear together, but using art therapy to treat PTSD is becoming more popular as people are looking for more treatment options. It requires no talent or previous knowledge of art—just a person that is willing to explore their creative side in hopes of regaining control their life.

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    References

    George Washington University (2010). Art therapy. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from http://www.gwu.edu/~artx/docs/GWU.art.therapy.information.packet.pdf

    Breat, E.A., & Ostroff, R (1985) Imagery and PTSD: An overview. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142,417-424