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CREATING A

TRAUMA-INFORMED
ART THERAPY ENVIRONMENT
(from Chapter 12: Trauma-Informed Art
Therapy
and Group Intervention
with Children from Violent Homes,
pp. 262-266, by Cathy A. Malchiodi)
Lauren E. Todd

ARTS565 Arts in Healing 1/27/16

Trauma-informed art therapy


(Malchiodi, 2011, 2012a, 2014) is a
model for intervention that
integrates neurodevelopmental
knowledge and the sensory qualities
of all of the arts within trauma
intervention.

Methods 5 Principles:
(Malchiodi, 2011, 2014)

1.
uses sensory, art approaches to selfregulation
2. applies a neurodevelopmental
approach to stabilize the bodys
response to stress
3.
identifies the bodys reactions to
stressful events and memories
4. uses arts-based interventions to
establish and support safety and positive
attachment

Model takes into consideration how


mind and body respond to traumatic
events

Symptoms are adaptive coping


strategies rather than pathology

Sanctuary Model (Bloom, 2009,


2010) sensory-based culturally
sensitive practices to improve
impact of trauma in individual lives
and organizational systems that deal
with trauma and interpersonal
violence (e.g. shelters).

Levine and Kline (2008) propose that


a child must experience the following
in order to feel safe and to be able to
self-regulate:
1. my body is safe
2. my feelings are safe
3. my thoughts, words, and ideas
are safe
4. the things I make are safe

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


1. Establish a sense of control

Therapist must consider how child who


has experienced violence will perceive
the environment and relationships
Important for helping professionals to
provide opportunities for children to feel
in control of the therapeutic environment
Example: Therapist allows child to
position seats in whichever arrangement
they like.

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


2. Maintain Consistency
Therapist establishes predictable rituals
for beginning and ending art therapy
sessions
Helping professionals support consistency
by being predictable in their own
responses and actions during sessions
Example: Welcome/name song activity
sung at beginning of each session.

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


3. Reduce Sensory Overload
Children who have been traumatized
are over-activated by too many
sensory stimuli and choices
Therapist should limit materials and
props during initial sessions until
children can self-regulate and adjust to
environment
Example: Use art materials that are

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


4. Support Experiences of Mastery
Therapist should choose activities
that are success-oriented with high
engagement and low potential for
frustration
Stress reduction strategies that
address physiological aspects of
trauma can provide sense of mastery
over fear, panic, and worry

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


5. Be Culturally Sensitive
Helping professionals should get to know
the unique cultural background of each
child
Culture more than ethnicity also may
include religious background or the
values of the community in which they
live
Example: Therapist asks child what music
they like, or listen to at home.

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


6. Provide Reassurance
Therapist looks for physical cues that
indicate a trauma response (fight,
flight, or freeze) such as rapid
breathing, hyperarousal, or withdrawal
Therapist should reassure child that
the traumatic event is not their fault or
happening at that moment
Example: Tells child, Youre ok, what

Practices that define a traumainformed environment:


7. Instill and Enhance Resilience
Reinforce fact that children who have
experienced a traumatic event are
survivors and thrivers
Therapists chooses art activities that
support self-empowerment, positive
relationships, and positive contributions
Example: Speak a blessing to each child,
thanking them for their presence and
contributions to the session.

Other environmental
considerations:
Comfortable chairs and tables for
children
Puppets (assortment, multicultural)
Childrens books for quiet reading time
Art materials (paper, cardboard,
markers, glue, tape, clay)
Building blocks or Legos
Snacks or tokens (stickers, etc) for
treats
Board games

Reference

Malchiodi, C. A., Editor (2015). Creative


Interventions with Traumatized Children
(pp. 262-266). New York, NY. The Guilford
Press.