Art Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Some experiences are simply too painful for words. For many people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, speaking about experiences can range from difficult to downright painful. Therapists have discovered that therapy employing art can dramatically help patients suffering from PTSD work through their traumatic experiences by communicating and expressing themselves through artistic mediums. Art therapy is a mental health discipline that holds promise for people who need help recovering from difficult past experiences.

What Is Art Therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a therapist-facilitated treatment that employs art mediums and the creative process to help patients explore emotions, resolve internal conflicts, and foster healing. While art therapy has been shown to improve the well-being of individuals with PTSD, it has also been effectively used to treat people suffering from addictions, anxiety, and other mental health issues and disorders. Art therapy is a respected treatment that is widely employed by hospitals, addiction treatment centers, wellness centers, and clinics across the country. It is easily integrated with other treatments to nurture the emotional healing and well-being of patients suffering from PTSD.

Art Therapy to Treat PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered after one is exposed to a life-threatening situation or traumatic event. Seeing and experiencing something traumatic can manifest later in this disorder and can result in nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, irritability, and other problems that make leading a normal life difficult. While many veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of witnessing the horrors of war, others like first responders, victims of violence and sexual abuse, or victims of car crashes, plane crashes, and even earthquakes can suffer are vulnerable to the development of this condition too.

Art therapy applies a creative angle to the treatment and recovery process for those suffering from PTSD. Creative engagement is able to nurture the healing process for many people who have this disorder. For some sufferers, music – writing songs and practicing an instrument -allows them to constructively deal with their feelings and experiences in a “safe” context. Whether through painting, sculpture, or photography, therapists can use an art medium that is most amenable to each patient to help them work through the emotional issues that have been defining their lives. Patients who participate in this type of therapy often report feeling uplifted, free to step away from their experience during the process, and more mindful about their behaviors that result from those intense feelings. For some, patients actually begin to “feel” again after they’ve been emotionally numb for so long.

The Bottom Line

Art therapy is an increasingly popular therapy used to treat PTSD. If you have been diagnosed with this disorder or you suspect you might be suffering from it, be sure to seek out a facility that offers this treatment. With each session, you can use the creative process to channel your healing, to recover from what once seemed dark and hopeless.

Related Topics:


American Art Therapy Association, “What Is Art Therapy?” http://arttherapy.org/aata-aboutus/

National Institute of Mental Health, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml