Art Therapy Activities to Overcome Trauma

When we look at the four main responses to trauma, firstly we discover just how different they are. They are categorized as separate emotional responses and therefore need separate ways of healing. Fawn, fight, flight and freeze may be experienced by us all at some point in our lives. However, some people suffer debilitating responses which affect every aspect of their lives. In this article, mindful arts therapy takes a look at what art activities best help each trauma response.

What Art Therapy Activities Help Overcome the Fawn Response to Trauma?

The fawn response is a type of trauma reaction that involves pleasing and appeasing others to avoid conflict, criticism, or rejection1. People who fawn may struggle with setting boundaries, expressing their needs, and asserting themselves. They may also experience low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and resentment1.

Art therapy can help people who fawn by providing a safe and creative outlet for self-expression, exploration, and empowerment. Art therapy can also help them develop a sense of identity, autonomy, and self-worth2.

Art Therapy Activities to Overcome Trauma
Art Therapy Activities to Overcome Trauma

Some art therapy activities that can help overcome the fawn response are:

Self-portrait: Creating a self-portrait can help you reflect on your strengths, values, and goals. You can use any medium you like, such as drawing, painting, collage, or photography. You can also experiment with different styles, colors, and symbols to represent different aspects of yourself. Try to be honest and authentic in your self-portrait and avoid comparing yourself to others or worrying about what they might think.

Boundary map: Drawing a boundary map can help you identify and communicate your personal limits and preferences. You can use a large sheet of paper and draw a circle to represent yourself. Then, you can draw other circles around you to represent different people or groups in your life, such as family, friends, co-workers, etc. You can use different colors, shapes, and sizes to indicate the closeness, importance, and quality of each relationship. You can also add words or symbols to express your feelings, needs, and expectations for each relationship. This can help you clarify what you want and don’t want from others, and how to respect yourself and others.

Affirmation cards: Making affirmation cards can help you boost your self-esteem and confidence. You can use small cards or pieces of paper and write positive statements about yourself, such as “I am worthy”, “I am capable”, “I am enough”, etc. You can also decorate the cards with stickers, glitter, or drawings to make them more appealing. You can keep the cards in a box or a jar and read them whenever you need a reminder of your value and potential. You can also share them with others who might benefit from them.

What Art Therapy Activities Help Overcome the Fight Response to Trauma?

The fight response to trauma is a type of trauma reaction that involves becoming aggressive, defensive, or hostile to protect oneself from perceived threats or harm. People who fight may struggle with anger management, impulse control, trust issues, and interpersonal conflicts.

Art therapy can help people who fight by providing a constructive and expressive way to channel their emotions, cope with triggers, and resolve underlying issues. Art therapy can also help them develop a sense of calm, compassion, and empathy3.

Some art therapy activities that can help overcome the fight response are:

Bilateral drawing: Bilateral drawing is a form of art therapy that involves using both hands to draw spontaneously with chalks, pastels, or other materials. This can help engage both hemispheres of the brain, reconnecting “thinking” and “feeling”, and modulating stress4. Bilateral drawing can also help release pent-up energy and emotions and create a sense of balance and harmony.

Photography: Photography is a form of art therapy that involves capturing images of oneself, others, or the environment with a camera or a smartphone. This can help people who fight to observe their surroundings more mindfully, focus on the present moment, and find beauty and meaning in everyday life5. Photography can also help them express their perspectives, challenge their assumptions, and communicate their feelings.

Comic strips: Comic strips are a form of art therapy that involves creating sequential stories with drawings and words. This can help people who fight to narrate their experiences, process their emotions, and make sense of their trauma6. Comic strips can also help them use humor, creativity, and imagination to cope with difficult situations and emotions.

Art Therapy Activities to Overcome Trauma
Overcome Trauma

What Art Therapy Activities Help Overcome the Flight Response to Trauma?

The flight response to trauma is a type of trauma reaction that involves escaping, avoiding, or withdrawing from perceived threats or harm. People who flight may struggle with anxiety, panic, phobias, isolation, and detachment.

Art therapy can help people who flight by providing a safe and supportive space to face their fears, explore their emotions, and reconnect with themselves and others. Art therapy can also help them develop a sense of control, mastery, and resilience2.

Some art therapy activities that can help overcome the flight response are:

Collage: Collage is a form of art therapy that involves cutting and pasting images, words, or objects from various sources, such as magazines, newspapers, or personal photos2. This can help people who flight to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in a non-threatening way. Collage can also help them identify their triggers, coping strategies, and goals2.

Mandala: Mandala is a form of art therapy that involves creating circular designs with geometric shapes, patterns, and colors. This can help people who flight to calm their nervous system, focus their attention, and center their awareness. Mandala can also help them create a sense of order, harmony, and wholeness6.

Sculpture: Sculpture is a form of art therapy that involves shaping, molding, or carving materials, such as clay, wood, or metal. This can help people who flight to overcome their avoidance, engage their senses, and challenge their limitations. Sculpture can also help them build confidence, competence, and creativity2.

What Art Therapy Activities Help Overcome the Freeze Response to Trauma?

Art therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals experiencing the freeze response to trauma, which is characterized by feeling stuck, numb, or unable to act when reminded of traumatic events. Here are some art therapy activities that may help those with a freeze response:

Bilateral Drawing: This activity involves using both hands to draw, which can engage both hemispheres of the brain and help with self-regulation. It’s not about creating a specific image but rather engaging in spontaneous drawing to ground oneself and reduce the freeze response4.

Trauma Narrative: Writing about one’s trauma can be therapeutic. It involves detailing the facts of the incident and expressing associated thoughts and feelings. This can help process the trauma and foster a sense of growth from the experience7.

Visual Expression: Since traumatic memory is often visually stored, creating art allows for a direct connection to these memories. Individuals can release aspects of their trauma at their own pace through art, which helps prevent becoming overwhelmed8.

These activities provide a way to express and process emotions safely, potentially reducing the intensity of the freeze response and aiding in recovery from trauma.

References:

1 https://www.liberationhealingseattle.com/blog-trauma-therapist/trauma-fawn-response-pleasing-appeasing

2 https://arttherapyresources.com.au/therapy/trauma-stress/

3 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/arts-and-health/201509/bilateral-drawing-self-regulation-trauma-reparation

4 Therapeutic activities that feel like play (therapyathome.com.au)

5 https://psychcentral.com/ptsd/art-therapy-for-trauma

6 https://www.expressiveartworkshops.com/expressive-art-resources/100-art-therapy-exercises

7 https://positivepsychology.com/post-traumatic-growth-worksheets/

8 https://www.thepalmeirapractice.org.uk/expertise/art-therapy-trauma


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