Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences psychological trauma. Typically, PTSD treatment involves certain types of therapy, which may include art therapy.
Individuals with PTSD may experience a range of symptoms. Many people with this condition respond well to therapy with a mental health professional.
Art therapy may help treat a range of conditions, from anxiety and depression to Alzheimer’s disease and autism. Some research suggests that art therapy may help reduce the symptoms of PTSD alongside other types of therapy.
This article explores what PTSD is, what art therapy is, and what potential benefits art therapy may have for people with PTSD. It also discusses other types of therapy for PTSD and when someone should consider speaking with a healthcare professional.
Individuals who go through traumatic or life threatening events may develop PTSD. This mental health condition can occur in survivors of experiences such as military combat, sexual assault, child abuse, or natural disasters.
The symptoms of PTSD may look different for everyone. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- flashbacks, in which a person may feel like the traumatic event they experienced is happening again
- physical pain, such as headaches
- avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or memories about anything closely associated with traumatic events
- feelings of isolation
- sleep disturbances
- frightening thoughts
- outbursts of anger or extreme reactions
- getting startled easily, hyperarousal, or hypervigilance
- loss of interest in hobbies or other activities
- difficulty concentrating
- trouble remembering
Although the symptoms of PTSD can be overwhelming, there are many treatment options available. Some people with PTSD may benefit from medications such as antidepressants. Certain kinds of therapy may also help with PTSD.
Art therapists combine active art-making, applied psychological theory, creative process, and human experience to help individuals address mental health symptoms.
Unlike many other forms of therapy, art therapy is a sensory experience not focused on words alone. It may involve different types of art, such as painting, working with clay, and drawing.
Many common forms of therapy focus on processing difficult experiences or emotions through language. However, individuals with PTSD may benefit from additional therapies alongside talk therapy.
According to older research cited in a 2016 studyTrusted Source, the brain may store certain traumatic memories nonverbally. Because of this, it may be difficult for someone to access and process these memories through talk therapy.
Art therapy integrates many different senses, such as touch and smell. Engaging different senses may help individuals process traumatic memories.
Overall, the study found that art therapy used with cognitive processing therapy may help improve trauma processing. However, it is important to note that these findings are based on a small sample of 11 veterans with PTSD. The researchers noted that further large-scale studies are necessary.
Additionally, a 2018 reviewTrusted Source of research found that art therapy may be beneficial for people with a wide range of conditions, including:
Researchers in a 2022 review of studiesTrusted Source found that art therapy, as a complement to other treatments, may help improve a person’s mental health. However, the researchers also noted that there is currently not enough information to support the efficacy of art therapy, and further studies are necessary.
A person with PTSD can speak with a doctor if they wish to learn more about art therapy and whether it may be beneficial for them.
There is a range of therapy options for treating PTSD. Some of the options include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- exposure therapy
- cognitive processing therapy
Some individuals with PTSD may also benefit from medications, such as antidepressants.
Individuals experiencing the symptoms of PTSD should speak with a doctor. This is particularly important if they experience:
- disruption to their usual daily activities
- distress or upsetting emotions and thoughts
- symptoms that last for more than 1 month
A doctor can assess a person’s symptoms and may provide a diagnosis. They can also recommend treatment options for individuals with PTSD.
For those who have already received a diagnosis, it is still important to keep in contact with a healthcare professional. It is best to inform a doctor if someone notices a worsening of symptoms or new symptoms.
Similarly, if a person is not responding well to their current treatment, they should speak with a healthcare professional to explore other options.
Art therapy uses the creative process to help people engage their senses and explore difficult memories. It may benefit people with PTSD when used as a complement to other types of therapy.
Unlike many other forms of therapy, art therapy may give individuals a chance to process trauma in a nonverbal setting.
Anyone living with PTSD should contact a doctor to learn more about treatment options. Additionally, a person should speak with a healthcare professional if they experience any new or worsening PTSD symptoms or if they are not responding well to their current treatment.
Last medically reviewed on August 10, 2023