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Five Ways Art Heals Trauma Survivors

At Stars of HOPE, we believe in the healing power of art. 

We believe that art has the power to heal emotional trauma in anyone. 

Increasingly, scientific evidence has been supporting the cognitive benefits of art, and it’s not just limited to trauma survivors. 

Researcher Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge in the U.K found that DVDs could teach autistic children how to read faces and emotions better. For many years, painting and free-form writing have been shown to help trauma survivors manage better their symptoms of PTSD. 

Art is a search for connection and a way to reach a deeper understanding of the world. Art is a tool to help people make sense of things that don’t make sense, and for many, art is a refuge from the pain of their pasts. 

In art therapy, it’s the act of creating art that heals, as well as the act of sharing it with others. 

Here are five ways that art can heal a trauma survivor:  

1. Art expresses emotions that can’t otherwise be communicated

Think about how many foreign languages have emotions that we don’t recognize in English, like ‘gigil’ in Filipino, which means the adorableness you feel when holding a puppy. Or the Dutch word ‘gezelligheid,’ describes the coziness felt from being around friends and family. Emotions are more significant than the words we have to express them, and the emotions of a trauma survivor are complex and challenging to communicate. Art is one of the few ways trauma survivors can voice these emotions and understand and process them. 

2. Art helps trauma victims take control of their narratives

We all have narratives in our heads running at any given moment. A traumatic event interrupts the narrative. It changes the tone. It makes things disconnected, and coherency is lost. Art is one of the best ways to reconnect with our narratives. We can see events from new perspectives, which helps us remember that we are the center of our narratives, not the disruption, cruelty, or hate.  

3. Art allows for time and space to process thoughts and feelings

Many fear art because it’s elusive and time-consuming, but these are two of art’s best qualities. Those who have experienced trauma often feel consumed with loud thoughts or replays of the traumatic events. Many often have obsessive thoughts about wishing they could have somehow stopped the event, only to realize that this is ultimately a self-defeating exercise and that it’s best to practice self-compassion. By setting aside time to create art, survivors create a safe, controlled environment to process their trauma. Art has the power to let trauma survivors engage in active emotional healing.  

4. Art engages parts of the brain that have been disconnected

When trauma disrupts a person’s narrative, it mixes up parts of the brain. Fear can lose touch with reason and make that person appear irrational to people who aren’t familiar with their situation. Trauma survivors often feel either numb or experience physical symptoms of emotional pain (we highly recommend Trauma and Recovery by Judith L. Herman for an in-depth look at how emotional trauma is worn in the body.)

5. Art creates something that can be shared with others

When trauma survivors show their creation to another, they’re not submitting it for judgment or an evaluation. They’re asking the onlooker to walk with them through their experience. Firstly, this can allow family and friends to gain a new perspective on what’s going on in the trauma survivor’s mind and understand them better. Secondly, this is often a powerful and healing experience for the trauma survivor. It can be the beginning of reforming their fundamental concept of trust and finding peace within the world again through the power of connection and understanding…two things art encourages.

Stars of HOPE is a non-profit organization with a mission – to heal the emotional wounds in trauma survivors all over the world. We do this by sending them messages of love and support, many of which were painted by trauma survivors or volunteers who donated their hope to those in need. If you’d like to find out how you can help our mission, please click here or donate (and remember, just like hope, no amount is too small!). 

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