Art and Music Therapy: Creative Approaches to Trauma-Informed Healing

Post-traumatic stress and its interrelated disorders can often be challenging to treat. For the mental healthcare clinician, effective therapeutic interventions aren’t just limited to the conventional methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy […]


Post-traumatic stress and its interrelated disorders can often be challenging to treat. For the mental healthcare clinician, effective therapeutic interventions aren’t just limited to the conventional methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy or medications; arts and music therapy serve as valid and productive approaches to healing as well. As a practitioner who is consistently observing, relating, and trying to heal your patients, broadening your understanding and usage of different therapeutic interventions becomes increasingly relevant.

Art and music therapy both fall under the category of expressive therapies, where patients use their creativity and imagination as a modality of healing. They are structured to help individuals express complex or difficult-to-verbalize emotions and experiences. Many of the modalities of expressive therapies have substantial research supporting them as an evidenced-based treatment.

Art Therapy: Painting the Picture of Healing

Art therapy, a combination of psychotherapy and artistic activities, is utilized as a medium to communicate and express feelings. In trauma therapy, art can facilitate a non-verbal pathway that allows the patient to communicate their experiences more comfortably. Some research suggests that the act of creating art may produce a meditative state, aiding the parasympathetic nervous system in soothing the stress response, which is often hyperactive in trauma survivors.

Art therapists introduce art techniques customized for individual therapeutic goals. These session plans could include painting, drawing, sculpting, or even collage making. Instead of interpreting the art or drawing conclusions about a patient’s state of mind based on their artwork, the emphasis is on the process of creation and self-expression. The therapists helps the client gain insight into their thoughts and feelings while exploring the patient’s process of art making. The therapists also help by simply providing the safe environment in which the patient can be creative and explore their thoughts and feelings through art.

The path to improving mental health through art therapy is a creative one. Data collected across numerous studies shows art therapy can reduce PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety for trauma survivors.

Music Therapy: A Symphony for the Soul

Music therapy uses music and all of its facets—physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual—to assist clients in improving or maintaining their health. It is not about learning to play an instrument or understanding musical theory. Participation may involve a range of activities, including listening to music, singing, or playing a musical instrument.

Research suggests that because music affects the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotions, it can be incredibly potent to those suffering from trauma. Music therapy can reduce distress and anxiety while increasing feelings of relaxation and positivity.

Certified music therapists assess the needs of their clients to create customized therapeutic interventions. Music therapy sessions may involve creating, singing, moving to, or listening to music. For trauma patients, the therapist typically emphasizes self-expression through improvisation and songwriting.

The benefits of music therapy for trauma patients have been well-researched. Studies show it can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety while improving sleep quality, mood, and overall mental health.

Actionable Steps Forward

As a professional in the field of mental health, incorporating art and music therapies into your therapeutic arsenal can provide a creative way to reach patients dealing with trauma. Here are actionable steps to start integrating these practices:

  1. Educate Yourself: The first step is to learn. Engage in workshops, seminars or online courses focused on art and music therapies.
  2. Connect with Professionals: Collaborate and consult with certified art and music therapists. They’re packed full of insight and practical advice to help begin integration into your practice.
  3. Start Small: You don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart to integrate creative therapy. Begin with simple art exercises or include calming music in your sessions or coloring books.
  4. Referrals for Art and Music Therapists: If you feel a patient could benefit from specific art or music therapy, don’t hesitate to refer them to specialized therapists in this field.
  5. Measure Outcomes: Similar to any other therapeutic intervention, it’s crucial to measure the course of recovery and adjust accordingly.

Art and music therapy aren’t just a treatment; they are the manifestation of the human spirit’s resilience. As medical and mental healthcare clinicians, these tools introduce a holistic and humanistic approach to therapy that can profoundly impact the lives of trauma survivors. Every stroke of the brush and strum of a string becomes the narrative that empowers patients to heal and regain their strength. It’s more than just art and music — it’s therapy.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Written by AI & Reviewed by Clinical Psychologist: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D.

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