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Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors

Carey, Lois (Ed.)(2006). Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

br2007_077Trauma injury is a very difficult area to treat as various symptoms may occur; depression, anxiety disorders, dissociation and substance abuse. Work with trauma client’s call for particularly eclectic therapists and a combination of therapeutically techniques may be required (Janoff-Bulmann, 1992). In this book the authors advocate expressive and creative arts therapies as sufficient in supplying treatment for children and adults suffering from traumatic experiences. The book is based on beliefs that alternative non-traditional forms of therapy with trauma survivors can be less threatening than verbal therapy alone, and more effective in making victims more accessible to treatment. As music therapists, we may share the notion underlined; that supplementing forms of therapy in the treatment of trauma in many cases might be preferable to “talk therapists.”

Various descriptions of methods and techniques related to treatment of trauma are revealed in this extensive volume. The chapters are devoted to helping trauma survivors, using expressive and creative methods like art, drama, music, puppetry, storytelling, sand and video therapy. Both individual and group therapies are presented. Preliminary thesis in the introduction of the book emphasizes the importance of therapeutic relationships as vehicles for healing of trauma. The thesis is followed up by skilful practitioners who illuminate and elaborate the different methods by using own examples from praxis.

The first chapter is opened by the neurologist David Crenshaw. From his neurobiological stance he looks at trauma treatment and its implications for creative arts therapists. He points to recent understanding of how psychological trauma disrupts homeostasis and can cause both acute and chronic effects on many organs and biological systems. Trauma exposure influence how children anticipate, focus and organize and process information. The neurobiological findings are used to underline the theoretically stance of the following chapters.

From a music therapy perspective, Diane Austin gives an interesting overview of vocal psychotherapy as treatment for adults traumatized as children. Austin defines vocal psychotherapy as the use of the voice, improvisation, song and dialogue within an analytical orientation to promote intra psychic and interpersonal change. In Austin’s work, songs are used to contain the client’s feelings. Within the frames of a song, traumatic experiences can be accessed and expressed. Songs can be structured foundations for treatment as clients can remember and make sense of strong experiences that has overwhelmed them as children.

Austin also describes various vocal holding techniques as integrative tools for linking thinking-feeling or mind-body. Austin links vocal psychotherapy to in-debts psychotherapy and she describe the voice work as restorative in reconnecting the splits between body, mind and spirit. Her contribution to this book is crucial and she reminds us of the importance of using the instrument which is closest to us, our voice.

Nancy Boyd Webb’s section on Crisis Intervention in Play Therapy illuminates the importance of mediating factors in therapy. She describes how toys can be used as mediating tools in the reconstruction of traumatic events. In a case vignette she demonstrates how toy firemen are used in trauma treatment of a six-year-old boy whose father, a volunteer fireman, had died in a house fire. The toys are used to increase the child’s ability to tolerate anxiety associated with the re-enacting of the traumatic event.

Other chapters on individual therapy includes editor Lois Carey’s contribution, Sand Play Therapy with a Traumatized Boy, Dennis Mc Charty`s Sand Play Therapy and the Body in Trauma Recovery, Eleanor C. Irwin’s, A Study of Cumulative Trauma: From “Robot” to “Regular Guy”, and Diane Frey`s two sections, Puppetry Interventions for Traumatized Clients and Video Play Therapy. These chapters are based on methods that use objects as mediating factors in therapy. As the child play with the objects, she can express feelings and link emotions to traumatic experiences. The outcome of the play gives significant information to the therapist about the child’s traumatic experiences. The theoretically foundation underlined in these chapters are mostly psychodynamic or Jungian.

Sections describing group therapy with trauma victims contains Judith Glass cognitive-behavioural approach to drama therapy; Working Toward Aesthetic Distance, Drama Therapy for Adult Victims of Trauma, Susan Hansen’s model of group therapy in; An Expressive Arts Therapy Model with Groups for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and P. Gussie Klorer`s perspective on Art Therapy with Traumatized Families.

Treatment and healing of trauma related to communities and culture are an increasing theme in international music therapy (Sutton, 2002). An understanding of trauma experiences as results of living within cultures, in communities and contexts are of great importance in this regard. In Carey’s compilation, most of the contributors are concerned with trauma as a result of inner dynamic conflicts or as individual or cognitive processes, not discussing trauma as a social/cultural phenomenon. It could be used as critique of this book that the methods described are narrowing their thinking to individual or group treatment, not widening up perspectives on trauma treatment in relation to communities and to cultural contexts. In this regard, this reader would like more discussions on trauma treatment as social participation and cultural integration. However, as an overview of what is going on within certain sections of expressive and creative art methods for trauma treatment, this collection of texts is fairly interesting reading.


Janoff-Bulmann, R. (1992). Shattered Assumptions. New York: Free press.

Sutton, J. (Ed.)(2002). Music, Music therapy and Trauma, International Perspectives. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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