person giving all of the details about their latest crush. Why? Because it works!
Not only have I seen it bring incredible healing in my work with clients, but there are also significant practical and scientific
reasons that expressive arts therapies are actually PREFERRED modalities for certain
types of treatment, especially trauma
recovery. Here’s why:
1. The Brain
Verbal processing, as done in traditional talk therapy, can be especially
challenging in trauma work. This is because when a traumatic event happens, the part of the brain that makes sense of things through language shuts down as our bodies protectively go into the fight/flight/freeze response. Then, the memories of the trauma are stored in implicit and sensory memory. This brings up a problem when someone wants to begin to process his or her trauma. It’s very difficult to
think in a logical way, process with words, or label emotional states. Expressive
arts therapies provide countless ways of processing that get around this barrier,
enabling people to find their voice, work towards healing, and regain their power
in ways that work with them and their brain processes!
2. Bypassing Defenses and Bridging the Gap
Expressive arts therapies can take the work to a deep place very quickly.
Traumatic memories that are stored in the implicit memory and unconscious
need to be incorporated into the narrative and conscious memory. They have to
be coded with language so they can be integrated for recovery from trauma to
The problem is, the conscious brain in the prefrontal cortex says “Hey! We don’t
want to go there! That’s not safe! That’s why we went offline in the first place!”
and becomes a master at building up defenses to keep us from addressing what
feels frightening, even though it is often times essential in the healing process.
Creative modalities can access the sensory and implicit memories and experiences and bring them to the surface, in a different, safe, and contained way, with the support of a therapist and any resources that they may need. These memories and experiences can then be given words, and integration can occur.
3. Distance and Containment
It can be very easy for people to become re-traumatized when entering into this work. Flooded by memories, flashbacks, and re-experiencing the past as though
it’s happening in the present can make trauma processing feel unsafe and
frightening. Whether the trauma survivor is creating a piece of art, directing or
acting in a scene, or creating music and movement to process their trauma, there is a level of containment. These things can be paused, examined at a distance,
reworked or replayed differently, and all the time, the survivor is in control. The
physicality of the work can also provide grounding, helping the trauma survivor
stay in the “here-and-now” through the process.
… I told you I tend to gush about this. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? This isn’t to say that other methods used for trauma treatment aren’t effective- I use many of them in my work with clients. But I am so grateful to have these skills and tools available to help my clients work toward healing, and a life that is no longer
controlled by the trauma they have experienced.