Healing From Abuse through Art Therapy


What is Abuse?

The commonly-used definition of abuse is “a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain and maintain control and power over another.” One thing to take note of about that definition is that we are referring to a pattern of behavior, not just one incident.

These behaviors can take on various forms. Many people, when they hear the word abuse, think of it pertaining to physical violence. But it’s important to note that physical force is just one means of power and control, and it’s often not the first one an abuser will use. Following are four different types of abuse.

  • Physical: This can include hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, strangling, or physically restraining another person against their will. It can also include making someone feel physically unsafe.
  • Sexual: While sexual abuse can also be a form of physical abuse, it’s in a category by itself because it can include both non-physical and physical actions. It can involve forced sexual acts or using or withholding sex as a weapon.
  • Emotional/Verbal: People often use words as weapons but often don’t consider it to be abuse. Their words are meant to make others feel worthless, stupid, ugly, and like no one would ever want to be with them.
  • Psychological/Mental: Psychological or mental abuse occurs when one person, through a series of words or actions, wears away at another’s sense of health and mental wellbeing. It often involves making the victim doubt their own sanity.

Challenges of Abuse

Challenge #1:

A sense of worthlessness. It’s frustrating for outsiders to see someone they care about get treated poorly, but many individuals in abusive situations have been taught that if they’re being treated like this, they must deserve it.  

Challenge #2:

Guilt. Many survivors think the abuse was their own fault while others feel guilty for not stopping the abuse, even if they were young children when it happened.

Challenge #3:

Helplessness. For many individuals who go from one abusive situation to another, the abusive behavior is perceived as being normal.

Challenge #4:

Re-enactment. To the frustration of those who love them, people abuse survivors often marry or date a series of abusers or find themselves in abusive “friendships.”

Art Therapy for Abuse

Art therapy is an effective treatment for helping people cope with symptoms of a wide array of disorders associated with abuse. In the cases of survivors of domestic violence and other types of abuse, art therapy allows the expression of their emotions through the use of visual arts, as well as to develop self-soothing skills and beneficial coping.

The applications of art therapy are versatile. They support emotional expression and improve emotional, mental, and in some cases, physical health for a variety of abuse-related diagnoses.

Studies have shown that the sensory benefits of art therapy arouse the middle brain, which is responsible for emotional regulation and self-soothing. For example, nurturing calming skills through learning and engaging in art therapy is a valuable practice for survivors.

Benefits of Art Therapy for Abuse

Gaining Access to Painful Memories and Encouraging Disclosure:

Because art therapy is a sensory and visual modality, it can help clients access and process painful and traumatic material stored in memory.

Dealing with Developmental Issues:

Art therapy can provide psychological distance, mirroring, and containment for patients who are working on mastering missed developmental stages.

Reconnecting with Others Through Sharing One’s Artistic Expressions:

Creative arts expression is a superior way to communicate the damaging effects of abuse and trauma. It activates feelings of empathy in an audience. For example, when trauma damages a sense of connection with others, creative arts can reestablish that connection.

Some Other Benefits Include:

  • Increased insight in group therapy
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Reduced symptom severity
  • Reduced incidence and severity of nightmares
  • Decreased symptoms of depression
  • Enhanced self-soothing abilities
  • Improved integration of feeling and thinking
  • Provides an effective way to work on control issues
Contact us today to learn about art therapy