A variety of treatment options are available to combat post traumatic stress disorder and address the various underlying issues holistically. High-quality treatment programs offer both alternative and traditional therapies that focus on a certain aspect of recovery. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a holistic approach to treatment offers the best outcome, since it offers a variety of pathways to recovery.

Complementary and alternative therapies are increasingly being instituted in medical and mental health settings as a growing number of studies reveal their benefits. One of the most common methods is art therapy, which has been used in therapy since the 1950s. Art therapy is offered in nearly 37 percent of PTSD treatment programs, according to a study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing. The study’s authors point to research that has found art therapy helpful for resolving trauma and increasing motivation during recovery.

Art Therapy at Work

PTSD sufferers who engage in art therapy are able to express themselves through creative, imaginative and non-verbal exercises, which helps them synthesize emotions that are difficult to put into words and enables them to tell their stories in a number of different ways. Art therapy reduces stress, and it can help reduce the shame someone with PTSD may feel as the result of their condition.

During a typical art therapy session, participants may build a sculpture, recreate an incident through drawing or painting, express their emotions with color and line, focus on painting as a way to relieve stress or create an art journal.

In some cases, participants may view existing art and discuss it in group settings to move them away from a contemplative state and into an active one and to help improve communication skills.

A Higher Level of Self-Awareness

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health cites a decade’s worth of research that has found that visual art therapy and other art-based therapies are effective complementary treatments useful for healing emotional wounds through increased self-awareness and self-reflection. Art therapy is beneficial for altering patterns of thinking and behaving.

Other types of art-based therapies include:

  • Music therapy, which has been found to calm the neural activity of the brain to reduce anxiety and improve immune system function.
  • Movement-based creative expression, which includes tai chi, a meditative practice that improves the perception of physical, mental and spiritual health.
  • Expressive writing, which is a powerful way to synthesize upsetting experiences and improve mood and health for the long-term.

The Bottom Line

A holistic approach to post-traumatic stress disorder that includes complementary therapies like art therapy nurtures body, mind and spirit and helps you address the complex issues underlying trauma. Alternative and complementary treatments used together provide a more robust path to recovery, and alternative therapies are a valuable aspect of treatment that shouldn’t be overlooked.