Linking Art Therapy, Trauma, and Children

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy may be most simply understood as the intentional integration of art materials in the therapeutic process. This process is facilitated by a trained art therapist who is versed in both psychological and counselling theories, as well as in the processes and properties of art-making.

This process may involve suggested activities and directives from the trained art therapist to compliment the client’s individual healing journey, as well as periods of free exploration and creation for the client. A discussion period often follows art making wherein the client and art therapist work collaboratively to explore what the resulting images mean to the client.

While some clients are interested in art therapy because of a preexisting interest in the arts, it is important to note that no prior experience with art making is required to have a productive and meaningful experience in art therapy. Additionally, art therapy differs from any traditional art classes you may have attended in that no formal or stylistic skills are taught in-session. A general rule of thumb within the art therapy space is process > product. This is to say that the experience of the client along the way is prioritized above the aesthetic components of the final works.

Trauma-Informed Art Therapy

A trauma-informed model of care encourages practitioners to consider how events may impact a variety of emotional, physical, and cognitive difficulties, in addition to how to recognize and reduce trauma reactions if they become present. In trauma-informed art therapy, individual experience and safety are prioritized, and the speed and content of sessions is approached at a comfortable pace. When approached from this angle, art therapy can also be advantageous in working with individuals who have experienced trauma for numerous reasons.

In addition to providing a foundation from which to build rapport and base verbal exploration, having access to art materials can assist individuals in depicting the visual experiences associated with trauma. In a sense, it can help us to convey what sometimes cannot be explained with words. Art therapy can also provide a means for individuals to reauthor their stories. Art allows us to take the mental material we carry and create something real, tangible, and extraneous to ourselves. Such creative work can assist individuals in separating the themselves as a person from traumatic events they may have experienced and create a new sense of optimism about the future. Finally, working on the visual plain can provide a means of untangling the complicated narratives many of us carry. Creating timelines, maps, or other visual aids can assist individuals in identifying key periods and factors within their stories, as well as help to resurface the good moments.

Art therapy with children

Although art therapy can be an appropriate and beneficial mode of treatment across populations, it provides several benefits that are especially helpful in working with younger clients. Art-making can provide a developmentally-appropriate means to healing that may be more familiar and comfortable for children. Additionally, image making can help convey important information related to traumatic experiences that may be difficult to access verbally for a variety of reasons. Beyond aiding young survivors to convey their experience, art therapy can be valuable in providing a supportive and imaginative space to rediscover their self-expression and personal identity, develop emotional regulation skills, experience independence and pride, and develop more adaptive narratives for the future.

2 thoughts on “Linking Art Therapy, Trauma, and Children”

  1. Julissa Stewart

    Are you aware of the process in becoming a certified, trauma-informed art therapist in Nova Scotia? What credentials are required to become certified in this area? It seems NS is lacking in trauma-focused therapy from what I’ve discovered in my own pursuit (“trauma-informed” exists, but many practitioners lack specialization in trauma therapy which is what I am interested in focusing on). Please let me know if you can suggest where I can find out the best route to make this happen. Thank you!

    1. Olivia Stymiest

      Hi Julissa,
      Thank you for your comment, it is so exciting to see people interested in pursuing art therapy!! Perhaps I can share a little bit about my path thus far. I completed a Masters degree in Art Therapy from Concordia University, during which I was exposed to the basics of trauma informed care. As I was also specifically interested in working with trauma, I was able to deepen these skills in my practicum work, research, and assignments. With a Masters degree in a counselling field, I met the criteria to become a Licensed Counselling Therapist (candidate) in NB (which I believe is the equivalent of becoming a Registered Counselling Therapist through the Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists). I will also be applying to become a Registered Canadian Art Therapist once I reach the post-graduate requirements.

      As a practicing therapist, I pursue Continuing Education courses and trainings regularly in order to continue broadening my experience and skill set in working with trauma. From my knowledge, there is no one specific and universal trauma-care certification for therapists in either province, but more so a variety of trainings mental health practitioners can choose from and can advertise upon completion.

      I hope that this helps! I am happy to continue discussing my experience and and answer any other questions you may have via email at .
      Take care <3

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