When I color during therapy, it creates a safe space for me to express painful feelings from my past. Coloring engages a different part of my brain that allows me to process my trauma in a different way. I can even talk about the most difficult memories of my sexual abuse without panicking.
Yet there’s more to art therapy than coloring, despite what the adult coloring book trend may suggest. They’re onto something, though, as I’ve learned through my own experience. Art therapy, just like talk therapy, has enormous healing potential when done with a trained professional. In fact, for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), working with an art therapist has been a lifesaver.
What is PTSD? PTSD is a psychiatric disorder resulting from a traumatic event. Terrifying or threatening experiences like war, abuse, or neglect leave traces that get stuck in our memories, emotions, and bodily experiences. When triggered, PTSD causes symptoms like re-experiencing the trauma, panic or anxiety, touchiness or reactivity, memory lapses, and numbness or dissociation.
“Traumatic memories typically exist in our minds and bodies in a state-specific form, meaning they hold the emotional, visual, physiological, and sensory experiences that were felt at the time of the event,” says Erica Curtis, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “They’re essentially undigested memories.”