June 27th is National PTSD Awareness Day.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder in which a person, following or witnessing an extremely traumatic, tragic, or terrifying event continues to have persistent and debilitating thoughts and memories of the event well after.
Not every person that has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event develops PTSD. People with PTSD usually have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and may feel emotionally numb or disconnected from the event and its emotional impact. PTSD can occur at any age including childhood.
Manifestations of PTSD:
Most people with post traumatic stress disorder consistently re-live the traumatic event. This reenactment could be in the form of nightmares or even intrusive thoughts during the day making it difficult to function. These nightmares or recollections may come and go weeks at a time and may seem “out of the blue” which tends to make experiencing these symptoms very confusing.
Symptoms range from mild to severe — people may become easily irritated or have violent outbursts. In severe cases, they may have trouble working or socializing. Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or intrusive images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and reenact the event for a period of seconds or hours, or in rare occasion for days. A person having a flashback, which can come in the form of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, physically believes that the traumatic event is happening all over again.
Treatment options for PTSD Sufferers:
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be treated, usually with a combination of psychotherapy and medication for more severe cases and used for specific symptom relief. People with PTSD benefit from seeking out a therapist or psychologist with specific experience and background in treatment of post-traumatic stress.
Art Therapy: A creative approach to express and heal inner struggle:
Art Therapy serves as a way to establish a safe ground in which the person experiencing intrusive thoughts or images can have a forum to explore these. Thus being able to work through understanding the triggers that serve to reenact the original event/s along with the flood of feelings experienced at the time of the trauma. By mobilizing an inner world that is symbolic in meaning, a surplus of information comes to the forefront and provides a deeper understanding and an ability to make connections to the original trauma and the person’s response to the event or events.
The creative art therapies hold a wealth of creative options for a person experiencing trauma. Poetry, writing, drawing, painting, sculpture music or dramatic play can release understanding and promote healing for an inner struggle that is often disconnected from our cognitive functions.
How Art Therapy works:
The experience of trauma is directly linked to the limbic system in our brain which evokes our most primitive responses creating a flight, fight or freeze physical response that gets triggered each time the person is confronted with a reminder of the event. By establishing a language that talks to this inner process the person is able to access feelings and thoughts associated with the impact on the physical self, promoting understanding and healing.
Artists in a way have used this method to process inner conflict for centuries; it is definitely not a new idea and is used today to help veterans of war, refugees, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of sexual assault.
Many domestic violence and sexual assault centers have art therapists to help process the trauma that has occurred. There are even national art therapy projects afforded to survivors of trauma. The creative arts therapies can have a restorative effect and a healing one through time for people who suffer from PTSD.