PTSD Professional Perspective: Art Therapy


Tapping into your creativity can be a great to way unleash your emotions, imagination and powerful strength in PTSD recovery. Today, Hannah McLaughlin gives some ideas for how to incorporate art therapy into your posttraumatic stress healing journey.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Art Therapy

Art Therapy can be adapted in many different ways to be useful in treatment for people working to overcome PTSD. Art Therapy allows people to use self-expression and the creative process of making art as their voice. It can be a way for people with trauma to release all of the anxiety provoking triggers out of their body and onto something tangible.  The use of art could help them remove that fear or trigger. Art is an excellent medium to use to help clients express themselves and their stories.  It is a safe way to tell stories that may be too painful to speak.

Art therapy has been shown to help clients with trauma resolve conflicts they are dealing with in relationships or otherwise, re-develop their personal strengths, and heal wounds that may be kept hidden because they are too painful. The art provides a safe space for clients to share their feelings, empowering them to transition into the role of survivors and out of the role of victims.   Art provides them a medium with which to tell their painful story and process the traumatic memories. Overall, I see art therapy as a powerful voice for any individual when expressing him/herself verbally is thought to be too painful.

The beauty of art therapy is that there are many directives that can be applied to a person of any race, gender, cultural background and they will still work as intended.  With any demographic art can be a tool that a therapist can use to assist clients on a transformative journey that involves redirecting feelings of fear and sadness that have overtaken them.  Clients may be encouraged to develop a relationship with their art and art making, moving the therapist out of the role of authority figure and into the role of mentor and guide. This type of art making helps the clients’ become active participants in their healing process thus, empowers them to become the leader in their healing process.  It is a wonderful therapeutic tool that can transform people’s lives in positive ways.

Resources for trauma related art therapy has been growing by the day.  Some articles that I found to be useful were;

Collie, K., Backos, A., Malchiodi, C., Spiegel, D. (2006). Art therapy for combat-related ptsd:  recommendations for research and practice. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 23(4), 157-164. Retrieved August 3, 2009 from ERIC (EBSCO) Database.

Malchiodi, C. A., ATR, LPCC (2007). The art therapy sourcebook. New York: Lowell House.

Rankin, A. (2003). A task oriented approach to art therapy in trauma treatment. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 20(3), 138-47. Retrieved August 3, 2009 from ERIC (EBSCO) database.

Schroder, D. (2005). Little windows into art therapy: Small openings for beginning therapists. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Talwar, S. (2007). Accessing traumatic memory through art making: an art therapy trauma protocol. Art in Psychotherapy Feb 2007, 34(1), 22-35.

Additionally, there are some great sites out there right now working with veterans through the expressive therapies.  Here are a few inspiring organizations that are worth checking out;

American Art Therapy Association;

The Combat Paper Project;

Raven Drum Foundation;

Hannah McLaughlin is a graduate student in the Boston area pursuing her master’s degree in Expressive Therapies with a specialization in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling. Life experiences exposed the transformative power of art leading Hannah to pursue the profession of art therapy.  She strongly believes in the healing power of self-expression and the creative process of art making and hopes to help others in the same way through her work. In addition to art therapy Hannah is an avid oil painter. Her work can be viewed on her website at .  Hannah currently resides in New Hampshire and can be reached at [email protected]

The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.


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