Art and Mental Health: How Can Creativity Aid in Healing from Sexual Trauma?

Art and Mental Health: How Can Creativity Aid in Healing from Sexual Trauma?

The link between art and mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean that art is the cure for happiness, but art is definitely a lodestar to recovery, therapy, and coping with trauma.

“People who suffer from past trauma, unresolved issues, or even internal struggles, can seek artistic endeavors such as painting, drawing, and even expression through music, (just to name a few) as a way to implement balance amongst life tasks, especially during times of stress,” says Dr. Keisha Downey, a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, California. There are two components of utilizing art as a means of therapy. It can be a healing aid in people, as well as a psychological method to foster well-being. Martin Seligman, author of the book Flourish, explains that there are five elements of well-being. He writes, that “positive emotion,” “engagement,” “accomplishment,” “positive relationships,” and “meaning,” gives individuals are reason to have pride, and feel connected.

Experimenting with a creative outlet, whether it is movement, music, or a specific medium, can lend an individual the ability to practice a skill and connect to something that contributes to society and to culture. Moreover, it is something that an individual can be immersed in—artists can indulge in their practice for hours at a time.

The definition of art therapy is simple. It’s essentially the process of “separating the thinking mind from the observing mind.” The average person thinks 60,000 thoughts per day. With art, a person is able to get into a flow where those thoughts are visualized. 

Taking negative emotions and expressing them in a visual, physical, or audio manner can allow an individual to have a natural release.

Maryam Sadari, a registered Art Therapist, Life Coach, and Reconnective Healing Practitioner says that, “The process of art making is therapeutic in itself and unlocks the flow of energy and other ideas.” The final product can be abstract. Sadari says that “Just the application of colors onto paper or canvas can provide release.” Moreover, “creativity is not just in using art materials. It can also be in movement, music, writing, and singing.

How does art therapy help a patient?

  • Reduces stress: In 2015, a quarter of US adults said they experienced extreme stress. For those who suffer from anxiety or stress, creative projects can give them a moment to detach from reality and focus on what is in front of you. A creative practice can help reconnect the individual to themselves and allows for an escape.
  • Connection to the brain and plasticity: Plasticity is how the brain changes and grows to new connections. Being a positive person means adapting to new situations, skills, and patterns throughout life. This is especially important for people suffering from addiction as they have to break out of old patterns that are not conducive to a persons life. “Creativity can be very beneficial in helping to instill positivity within,” says Dr. Downey. “Creativity can also help individuals properly analyze their life and understand better what steps to take to obtain personal and healthy life goals.”
  • Boosts self-esteem: Focusing on a specific new talent or skill over time can help enhance your self esteem, especially when a project is finished and completed. When a person finishes a project it gives them the confidence to pursue other paths in life that may seem daunting otherwise.
“Experiencing trauma tends to keep the mind, in particular the lower regions, in a constant state of alert which is usually referred to as the survival instincts. Using creativity such as working with clay or art materials soothe those lower regions which in turn can help the victims calm down as well as the ability to use their higher cognitive function,” says Sadari.
Moreover, art therapy can also be practiced everywhere. And it can be utilized for all types of trauma, disorders, and illnesses. Creative processes give a person time to meditate, without becoming stressed or overwhelmed.

What kinds of art therapy techniques do professionals utilize?

A long list of creative techniques can be used for patients by professionals. Dr. Sadari explains that there are “assessments that can look at where to focus the treatment plan; there is a Art-as-Therapy approach which will provide the therapist with feedback simply by observing the client’s process of art making.” Another form is therapy is when a “therapist provides a specific directive where the end product is the focus of the session,” explains Sadari.

  • Painting (finger painting, landscapes, painting with eyes closed)
  • Journaling
  • Family sculptures
  • Collaging
  • Practice music, learn a new instrument
  • Movement (dance, yoga, experimental movement)

The Counseling Director says that “experience of skill in art is not required.” It’s more about the expression and the feelings through the process rather than the skill involved. Art therapy can be beneficial for children, families, elderly people, and those specifically in the justice system.

If you’re interested in seeking treatment related to art therapy, look for art therapists in your area or consider practicing something creative at home.