Trauma-Focused Art Therapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder : A Pilot Study

Research showed that more than 30% of patients with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) do not benefit from evidence-based treatments: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These are patients with prolonged and multiple traumatization, with poor verbal memory, and patients with emotional over-modulation. Retelling traumatic experiences in detail is poorly tolerated by these patients and might be a reason for not starting or not completing the recommended treatments. Due to lack of evidence, no alternative treatments are recommended yet. Art therapy may offer an alternative and suitable treatment, because the nonverbal and experiential character of art therapy appears to be an appropriate approach to the often wordless and visual nature of traumatic memories.

The objective of this pilot study was to test the acceptability, feasibility, and applicability of trauma-focused art therapy for adults with PTSD due to multiple and prolonged traumatization (patients with early childhood traumatization and refugees from different cultures). Another objective was to identify the preliminary effectiveness of art therapy. Results showed willingness to participate and adherence to treatment of patients. Therapists considered trauma-focused art therapy feasible and applicable and patients reported beneficial effects, such as more relaxation, externalization of memories and emotions into artwork, less intrusive thoughts of traumatic experiences and more confidence in the future. The preliminary findings on PTSD symptom severity showed a decrease of symptoms in some participants, and an increase of symptoms in other participants. Further research into the effectiveness of art therapy and PTSD is needed.

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Karin Alice Schouten MATh, Susan van Hooren PhD, Jeroen W. Knipscheer PhD, Rolf J. Kleber PhD & Giel J.M. Hutschemaekers PhD | 2019
In: Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, ISSN 1529-9732 ; eISSN 1529-9740 | 20 | 1 | 114-130
Art Therapy, Evidence Based Treatment, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD (DSM-5), Treatment