Trauma-Informed Clinical Art Therapy

Trauma-Informed Clinical Art Therapy approaches and methods can be effective with children, adults, families and communities that have experienced interpersonal violence, have experienced child maltreatment, the effects of poverty, may be victims or witnesses to homicide, combat or war, natural disasters, terrorism, hate-crimes, or are experiencing complicated grief, medical illness, and people facing the challenges of addiction. The expressive and sensory, or embodied qualities of art are key to helping individuals communicate traumatic memories, repair and recover.

What is Trauma?
The pioneering work of psychiatrists Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk over recent decades has advanced an understanding of how trauma and adverse experiences are processed by the brain. Malchiodi (2015) defines trauma as “an experience that creates a lasting, substantial, psychosocial, and somatic impact” (p. 4) that can be “single occurrences such as an accident or witnessing an injury to another or several experiences that become traumatic in their totality” (p. 4). Perry, when asked in a 2016 interview how he defines trauma, provided this explanation:

Despite using that word all the time, the psychiatric field still debates how to define it. Is trauma an external event? Is it the way we experience that event? Is it the long-term changes in emotional and physical functioning that follow the event? I define trauma as an experience, or pattern of experiences, that impairs the proper functioning of the person’s stress-response system, making it more reactive or sensitive.

Perry, 2017, p. 5

Malchiodi’s (2015) framework for understanding trauma is that it is “an autonomic, physiological, and neurological response to overwhelming events or experiences that creates a secondary psychological response” (p. 3), citing the work of Perry (2009). Stress-responses are adaptive and dynamic responses to change or potential threats and can produce elevations in heart and respiration rates, raised cortisol levels, the release of glucose (Perry, 2016). Moreover, activation of the stress-response can be positive, and according to Perry can build the capacity to manage challenges.

Predictable, controllable, and moderate activation of the stress-response system has been shown to build our capacity to manage challenges. When a child has the opportunity to challenge herself in the presence of supportive adults, it builds resilience. It’s the dose, the pattern, and the controllability that determine whether the stress is adaptive or harmful (p. 4).

Researchers with the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, suggest ‘toxic stress’ occurs in children who are exposed to prolonged adverse experiences including “physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2014, par. 4). However, serious stress can be buffered by relationships that are supportive and positive, making the stress responses temporary.

Art Therapy Online

Art Therapy Online is available due to the advances in online technology using video chat services and phone therapy, clinical art therapy and counselling is possible, and even preferred by some clients. The connection that was previously only possible through face-to-face counselling is now available through secure, private eCounselling Services. Even art therapy is possible online.

No Boundaries: With online counselling, you have the ability to connect with a therapist or counsellor who is not in your area. As long as you have internet or telephone access you can connect at a time and from a place convenient to you,

Efficiency: Greater flexibility in appointment times is possible, without the travel time to get to your appointment.

Communication Channels: Online therapy enables you to open your therapy application on your computer, tablet or phone and get help right away. This includes secure and private SMS/chat, video, and phone therapy options.

Privacy/Confidentiality: Using online therapy provides users with complete privacy and confidentiality. Therapists who provide online services are bound by the same strict laws, as is the case with their brick and mortar business and face-to-face client sessions. Your therapy sessions are protected by Canada’s federal law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), is comparable in many ways to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States. Furthermore, your chat sessions are also secured by various bank-grade encryption levels, which only you and your therapist can access. Lastly, should you still not feel comfortable with therapy, even online therapy, you have the ability to sign up anonymously using an alias.

Pricing: Typically, online therapy is more affordable than face-to-face therapy services and is generally recognized by some major insurance companies the same way face-to-face therapy is. This can help reduce cost without compromising the level of care and attention you receive.