Managing PTSD with Art Therapy

Managing PTSD with Art Therapy

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that’s activated by either witnessing or experiencing a frightening event. Symptoms often include nightmares, severe anxiety, and flashbacks.

Most people who experience or witness distressing events have difficulty adjusting and coping, but with good self-care and time, they usually improve. If the symptoms last for months or even years, interfere with day-to-day functioning, or worsen, it may be a sign of PTSD.

The symptoms of this disorder can begin within one month of the traumatizing event, but in some cases, symptoms may not materialize until years after the event has occurred. This can cause significant problems in relationships and work or social situations and interfere with the patient’s ability to go about their daily activities.

Challenges of PTSD

There are three well-known challenges for those dealing with PTSD.

  1. Reliving the traumatic incident. The person will often disconnect from their environment and experience the incident over and over again. Some people, certain places, or other circumstances that remind the patient of the incident can cause this. In some rare cases, this symptom can be triggered by unidentified causes and reveal itself during sleep.
  2. When a person suffers from PTSD, they will attempt to avoid the people, situations, and places that can serve as a trigger. And while this may seem intuitive, it may not be healthy because it can affect everyday life, relationships, and otherwise healthy situations.
  3. Reactivity: Another common phrase for this is a person who appears to be “on edge.” They will get irritated easily, won’t sleep soundly, often act out angrily, and constantly have their guard up.

This behavior is different than a typical type of irritability because the mood for this symptom will interfere with normal life functions such as sleeping, focusing on important tasks, and eating. This isn’t a triggered symptom but one that is consistent from day to day.

Art Therapy for PTSD

Art therapy uses creative mediums like painting, coloring, sculpture, and drawing. For the recovery from PTSD, art helps handle traumatic events in a new way. Art offers an outlet when words fail and with a trained art therapist, every phase of the therapy process involves art.Painting and coloring are some forms of art therapy

Traumatized people frequently feel unsafe inside their own bodies. In order to change, people need to be aware of their feelings and the way their bodies interrelate with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the oppressiveness of the past.

Art therapy is great for body work because clients manipulate artwork outside themselves. By expressing difficult pieces of their traumatic stories, clients begin to access their physical experiences and learn once again that their bodies are a safe place.

Benefits of Art Therapy for PTSD

Creating art can change neural pathways in the brain, which in turn can help change how we feel and think. Art therapy has been known to combine:

  • Bi-lateral stimulation;
  • Mind-body connectedness;
  • Communication between cerebral cortex functioning and the limbic system;
  • Conscious and unconscious mental activity;
  • Allowing the brain to use visual and mental imagery.

Art therapy can be used as a supplement to traditional mental health treatment options.  The goal is to process feelings, reduce stress and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and manage behaviors in the following ways.

  • Self-discovery: Producing art can help patients recognize and acknowledge feelings that have been hiding in their subconscious.
  • Self-esteem: Participating in art therapy will give patients a feeling of self-accomplishment. This can be very useful in improving self-confidence and self-appreciation.
  • Emotional release: One of the greatest benefits of art therapy for PTSD is providing a healthy outlet for communicating and letting go of a patient’s fears and feelings. In some cases, more complex emotions such as anger or sadness cannot be expressed with words. When patients are not able to express themselves, but they want emotional release, creating art can facilitate that.
  • Stress relief: Fighting depression, emotional trauma, or anxiety can be very stressful both physically and mentally. Creating art can be used to relax the patient’s body and mind and relieve stress.

Because art therapy is just one of many options used for the treatment of PTSD, it can often be used together with a variety of treatment options to determine what works best.

To learn about art therapy for PTSD, click here.