Art Therapy and PTSD Art essay

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Children need special attention when dealing with traumas they might not fully understand. Thus art therapy has been proven to benefit the increasing number of children dealing with PTSD and other trauma related disorders creating fear and anxiety within the innocent child. Another major benefit of art therapy is that of the informal nature of the expression. Unlike language which is complicated through strict grammatical rules, artistic expression has the freedom to express complexities outside of language (Malchiodi 2006). In children, who do not yet have a full grasp and understanding of the complexities of language, art therapy allows certain emotions to come out which would have otherwise been unable to be expressed using a limited word bank and language ability, "Children do not have extensive vocabularies for describing their feelings and experiences, but they are generally comfortable with art as a natural way to communicate," (Malchiodi 2006:13). And so, art therapy provides a necessary alternative which allows children dealing with PTSD to cope with their stress and experience treatment rather than simply discussing it. Art therapy has been proven to benefit many cases of children dealing with acute PTSD, yet more research is needed to fully explore its impact of children suffering from long-term chronic PTSD. This lack of knowledge concerning strictly chronic PTSD sufferers proves that the true benefits of art therapy have not been fully developed or explored to produce real and reliable findings on how it can be utilized as a practice to help alleviate the stress of PTSD in young children.

Yet, despite a lack of research in some areas of art therapy, it still has proved a popular alternative for a wide variety of mental and anxiety disorders. Throughout history, art has been harness by individuals to rely religious and emotional meaning. Generations upon generations have witnessed the expression of art as both a communicator as well as individual relief. Since the 1930s, art therapy has been used in a variety of settings in order to help relieve mental stress. Many cases have seen art to empower the artist in his or her pure emotional expression, "Art therapy has grown from this concept that art images can help us to understand who we are, to express feelings and ideas that words cannot, and to enhance life through self-expression," (Malchiodi 2006:2). The art involved in such therapeutic methods is vast, and incorporates a variety of media in its intervention practices. Painting, drawing, sculpture, and other forms of artistic expression have been utilized within a variety of therapy models aimed at reducing stress and diagnosing depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

These visual therapeutic methods have been known to noticeably lift the moods of patients suffering from PTSD (National Standard 2008).

Art has always been known to help express emotions and elevate the mindset of the artist. Now, there is physical evidence which shows the serotonin levels increase while the individual creates, "the actual process of art making can also alleviate emotional stress and anxiety by creating a physiological response of relaxation or by altering mood," (Malchiodi 2006:13). This elevator can help remove the previous tortured patient from their anxious fears and worries, at least for a period of time while the art is being created.

This form of therapy can be a huge release of negative and harmful emotions. Understood as catharsis within the context of psychology, art therapy can cleanse or purge negative emotions from an individual's mind through the medium of art, "Catharsis literally means cleansing or purging; in therapy it refers to the expression and discharge of strong emotions for relief. Making a drawing, painting, sculpture, or other art form can be cathartic in that is may provide relief from painful or troubling feelings," (Malchiodi 2006:13). Art therapy has proven to be very effective in cases which patients are otherwise unable to express emotions verbally, "art therapy enables the expression of inner thoughts or feelings when verbalization is difficult or not possible," (Natural Standard 2008). It proves to be a release of emotional stress without the complications of verbose explanations and the anxieties which come with it.

Art therapy empowers an otherwise powerless individual and allows him or her to visually express what has haunted them in the past, thus giving the patient a sense of self-control when such feelings were potentially lost due to PTSD. Like other cognitive-behavior therapies, it can be adapted to suit a multitude of different environments when needed (Wethington 2008). Each individual patient can have various art therapy activities tailored to his or her needs and the demands of the disorder that plague them. The creation process involved with art therapy also has a huge impact on the minds of those suffering from PTSD and other disorders. This creation allows for personal fulfillment in "the creation of a tangible reward [which] can build confidence and nurture feelings of self-worth. Personal fulfillment comes from both the creative and the analytical components of this process," (Krapp & ). Art therapy has been used as a type of intervention in order to curb various disorders from doing more harm to the minds of both children and adults.

Art therapy is currently used in a variety of practices dealing with assessment and treatment of PTSD. Studies have shown that PTSD sometimes is stored within the minds of patients as representative images, "researchers have discovered that traumatic experiences often become encoded in the mind in the form of images. That is, when we experience traumatic events such as violent acts or catastrophes, our minds may take them in just like a camera taking a photograph," (Malchiodi 2006:10). And so, visual images produced through various models of art therapy can help express those images without complicating the traumatic photograph with extra vocabulary. When trauma proves too painful for words, artistic expression can be a valuable tool in understand trauma and progressing forward to a life unaffected by such events. Previous research has shown the usefulness of art therapy as a gauged to detect depression and other symptoms of PTSD (Wallace et al., 2004). With this detection and potential early diagnosis, a greater breadth of treatment can be made available to those suffering from PTSD. In a 2004 study (Wallace et al.) investigated depression in children and young adults who had recently had renal transplants aimed at measuring the prevalence of depression along with assessing how useful the Formal Elements of Art Therapy Scale (FEATS) proved to be in such a young demographic. This scale requires the use of black, brown, yellow, orange, red, purple, magenta, hot pink, turquoise, blue, green, and dark green watercolor markers on a 12x18" white paper (Malchiodi 2002). The children were then asked to draw a person picking an apple off a tree. These drawings were later analyzed based on such categories as prominence of color, color fit, implied energy, space, integration, logic, realism, problem solving, developmental level, details, line quality, person, rotation, and preservation (Malchiodi 2002). This particular assessment models allows for easy group comparison and application of methods on both children and adults. FEATS is also based on established global art elements, which then helps eliminates artistic bias against particular works. The FEATS scale was used in the 2004 Wallace et al. study to gauge depression and signs of PTSD in young adults and children recently having been through renal transplants through analysis of the global arts elements and the use and expression of color within the individual drawings. Assessments of the product of the visual art produced through FEATS showed that art therapy revealed more signs of PTSD and depression than a more formalized self-report measures (Wallace et al., 2004). Yet, the focus of this study lies directly in recognition of PTSD and not the treatment, despite its valuable information regarding more intimate ways of diagnosing and spotting PTSD in patients dealing with various forms of trauma.

Yet more research has uncovered benefits of art therapy in PTSD patients -- "especially in children. A 2001 study (Chapman et al.) used another art therapy research model in order to explore how art therapy helped depress various symptoms of PTSD in children. Set in an urban trauma center, the study was originally designed to reduce symptoms within child and young teen patients using the Chapman Art Therapy Intervention model (CAATI). The CAATI model was designed and planned for "incident-specific, medical trauma t provide an opportunity for the child to sequentially relate and cognitively comprehend the traumatic event, transport to the hospital, emergency care, hospitalization and treatment regimen, and posthopsital care and adjustment," (Chapman et al. 2001). Initial analysis at first showed no statistically significant difference between other intentionally reducing therapies within the same age range of PTSD patients (Chapman et al. 2001). Yet, later analysis found that the CAATI model did have an effect of reducing acute stress symptoms within many of the young participants who took part in the…[continue]

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