Exploring Art Therapy & Trauma | Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of our interview with one of our art therapists, Val Koutmina ATR-BC, LCAT, who works with survivors of sexual trauma. In Part 2, you will read how Val approaches her sessions and how art therapy can transform trauma.
How do you approach your art therapy sessions?
The goal of art therapy is to safely approach a traumatic event or experience and express it by putting it into imagery or language. This puts the trauma into a context and articulates its boundaries. Then, there is more of a sense of a continuous, consistent self and an instance of trauma, not the other way around.
As art therapists, we know it’s important not to dismantle a client’s defenses to prevent them from being re-traumatized. Acknowledging clients' emotional responses, such as rage, depression and frustration is important, as those responses are there for good reason.
Illuminating resilience and survival are essential components to art therapy sessions. The client existed before the trauma happened, and continued to do so after. It’s important to honor the inner child, or traumatized part of the self, even the angry part, and realize that you helped yourself survive and maintain a life.
I run my art therapy sessions in an open-studio structured format. Clients are free to choose which materials to work with, and have a structure to rely on - knowing what to expect is huge for trauma survivors.
If clients don’t like a certain material or process, they can try something else. That’s validating and empowering; creating that flexibility. Art is done safely with art materials and in unison with people who have had similar experiences. This helps clients have a safer sense of self and better sense of their emotions.
How does art therapy transform trauma?
While working and transforming art materials, the clients are transforming their traumatic experience. Whatever is practiced in the studio becomes applicable in the clients’ lives. Clients practice taking risks, saying “no,” identifying needs and goals, relating to one another and viewing the externalized parts of the self.
Being in dialogue with the traumatic experience during the art-making process gives one a greater sense of resilience in the face of future challenges. Externalizing and safely expressing oneself in art helps clients regain control over their emotions. They can safely occupy the space of a canvas and contain negative or toxic feelings. They can discard, destroy, abandon or reclaim and remember different parts of themselves.
At some point, the maladaptive or negative attachment with the past traumatic experience lessens as it is processed in art therapy. A new dialogue begins with clients' day-to-day concerns and current being in the world. Art-making allows for the creation of new narratives and development of trust. We work in a way that’s validating, empowering, and promotes accountability.
Stay tuned for Part 3, which will address what happens in group art therapy and why Val believes art therapy is important.