5 Ways Creative Therapy Can Help You Recover From Trauma
Have you ever been mistreated, judged or hurt in your relationships? If so, it is likely that you will be very careful not to put yourself in situations where you could feel mistreated, judged or hurt.
This idea applies to how you perceive and engage with mental health support. For example, if you think speaking to a professional could make you feel vulnerable, exposed or ashamed, then keeping silent over opening up may feel safer.
This fear is very real, and for some people, it can stop them from reaching out and taking that necessary step to get help.
What you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may not have words attached to them, so when something feels unprocessed, it may help to have a supportive space where you can express yourself freely and safely. Creative therapy can help you with this.
There are many widely recognised forms of creative therapy including Dramatherapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Dance Movement Therapy, Play Therapy and Sandplay Therapy.
Here are 5 ways creative therapy can help you recover from trauma. Creative therapy can help you:
1. Express your thoughts and feelings
You know when things are boiling over for you. The rational part of your mind stops, and your emotions take over.
Trauma disturbs and distorts the way you think and feel. Sometimes the chaos of it all makes it too difficult for you to understand what actually happened, and the order of events become shuffled and fragmented.
If you have a lot going on inside and you have been bottling it all up for a long time, then it’s likely you will need some sort of outlet before you explode (or implode). Creative therapy can give you this outlet to express yourself freely – whether verbally or non-verbally. Trauma gets trapped in the mind and body so having an outlet that actively encourages you to fully express yourself in different and multiple ways can keep the pot from boiling over.
The point is that you have an outlet to express yourself freely as you are and as you feel. It’s not about ‘being artistic’ or making something with aesthetic merit. There is no expectation that you need to be coherent, organised or rational in any way. The making-sense-of-it-all bit can come later. Oftentimes, the very act of creating something means you can experience it, step away from it, and then reflect on it. In this creative process, you give yourself the necessary distance to make talking feel a little easier.
People tend to take in information and process things more thoroughly when they have something visual to look at and something physical to take part in. By working creatively – for example, through writing, drawing and using movement, you engage with and stimulate the parts of your brain and body that have direct access to your memories and emotions.
2. Reflect on difficult and painful feelings at a distance and pace that feels safe for you
Do you purposely avoid people, places and situations that bring about painful memories and unbearable feelings? Part of you may be working hard to avoid stirring up anything too uncomfortable, but part of you may be wanting the opportunity to heal your pain and be free from this hold.
Therapy is meant to help you work through difficult and painful emotions but it’s important to know you don’t have to share anything that you’re not comfortable with nor will you be made to share everything all in one go. This idea of spilling it all out to your therapist can be terrifying for some and perhaps cathartic for others. However, it is important to work with an experienced therapist who can be sensitive to your personal experiences and limitations because spilling out too much and too soon can be re-traumatising. This is where working creatively can be instrumental in helping you share safely.
If you have experienced mistrust and hurt in relationships, it can take time to trust your therapist to begin sharing about yourself and the details of your experiences. By working creatively, you can find new ways of relating to your therapist and addressing your situation so that the focus doesn’t solely have to be on you and what you say. For those who have had their personal boundaries broken, felt intruded upon or experienced intrusive thoughts, the last thing you want is to feel pressured to fill the session time by talking about the things you aren’t ready to share.
Working creatively means you can work indirectly and at a distance without needing to go into detail about your situation if you are not comfortable sharing sensitive information at this point. For example, there are many ways to work with your emotions by working symbolically with the themes of trust, fear, betrayal, courage, etc. This is when working with imagery, movement, story and art can be helpful. Putting your thoughts and feelings outside of yourself to be represented in something else on paper, in an object, or as another character can help you work through your experiences at a safe and healthy distance.
3. Discover a new perspective
For those who have endured ongoing experiences of trauma over a long period of time, it may feel difficult to believe that things can be different and that things can change. You may feel stuck in your thoughts and perceptions about yourself and the people around you. For example, if you have been hurt in your early relationships, you may feel cautious and fearful of people. Sometimes without realising, you may replay familiar scenarios in your mind and then expect that you will always be treated by others in a similar way.
Let’s face it – it’s difficult to stop old patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving unless you begin to experience something new and positive. It’s like creating a new habit in your diet and lifestyle – you need to experience it, repeat it and integrate this into your life for change to be possible. Being told new information just won’t cut it – it may go in one ear and out the other because the rational part of the brain is finding it too difficult to process.
When engaging in something creative, you open yourself to experience something new. For example, in a Dramatherapy session, you may create a story and work with different characters where you actively engage and experience different roles and relationships. By doing so, you literally step into other people’s shoes and learn to see things from a different perspective.
4. Find your own answers
You may have experienced unhealthy relationships that have left you feeling at fault, that you’re to blame, and that you have failed in some way.
By working creatively in therapy, you open yourself to challenge these unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
Working creatively engages you in a process where there is no right or wrong way of doing something, there is no one solution, and there is no way to fail. You open yourself to the possibility for change and you can feel empowered when you find your own answers.
The therapist is not the all-knowing, solution-making person in the relationship. When you engage in a creative process, you are encouraged to find your own answers. These answers can come from working ‘outside of the box’. In this process, people often find new ways of viewing their problems, and then from this, find new answers that feel right for them. With so many possibilities, there comes new hope for change and recovery.
5. Develop your confidence and self-esteem
Therapy is a space that welcomes all feelings.
There will be times when you may need to express more painful feelings, however, it is important to remember to make space for the positive, strong and healthy parts of you too. Not all sessions will or should be full of pain, sadness and anger. Several times I have been told by my clients that they found their sessions to be “fun” and “enjoyable”.
Creative therapy can help you balance the dark with the light. For example, as a Dramatherapist, I have helped clients create their own games where they can try out new rules and explore their limitations; play a different role to how they see themselves in their everyday life; write a story to explore the relational dynamics and conflicts, and to imagine different resolutions. These creative outlets can be fun, relaxing, invigorating, inspiring and strengthening.
Working creatively actively encourages you to make different choices, find your own voice and experience your own sense of agency. All in all, this process can help you to get to know yourself better. When you feel more self-assured and grounded in who you are, you can experience greater confidence and self-esteem.
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Please note that this blog is meant to be educational and should not be a substitute for therapy.
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