The majority of survivors of complex trauma (experiencing more than one event) are not able to verbally express what happened to them. It’s important to know that words only reside in the left pre-frontal cortex. It’s also important to know that traumatic events—especially those that are repeated, cause the cortex or “thinking” part of our brain to go offline—or not fully functioning.
Trauma and more importantly, complex trauma causes the survivor to be stuck in the mid-brain where our emotions and memories are stored. The language of this area of the brain is the expressive arts—music, movement, visual art, etc. When starting with these modalities, they literally move upward and open up the pre-frontal cortex so that words can now be used. The brain starts to be integrated again and properly function.
Pre-COVID, I ran a weekly Art Transforming Trauma therapy group for women and pulled from AWBW workshops. Many of the participants were in individual therapy with another therapist. The women would come to group stating that they took their art activity to their therapist the following week to continue processing their trauma.
Post-COVID, I continue to use the workshops with my individual clients, did an AWBW mask making workshop with veterans at a retirement community, and am preparing to provide a series of art workshops for Muslim women who are survivors of complex trauma.
It’s not uncommon that my clients will verbally tell me one thing, but their art depicts something entirely different. Art, in all of its many forms, allows me to have conversations with my clients that I would not be able to have otherwise and really get to the root of their trauma. I am so grateful to AWBW and their dedication to trauma survivors and their helpers. What a gift they are to so many.
Candace Wheeler, LPC, C-DBT, NCC
Windows Facilitator, Restoration 1:99
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A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) supports hundreds of direct service organizations across the country to incorporate creative expression into their work with trauma survivors. With this blog we uplift the voices of our art workshop facilitators and participants. We invite you to take in this perspective, notice what resonates and explore how it may fit into your life.