Every picture tells a story: Art therapy and trauma processing


In the aftermath of trauma, it is widely accepted that memories are stored predominately in the right hemisphere of the brain, where they lack narrative organization and cognitive perspective. Preverbal, implicit memories of trauma appear to be held in fragments best expressed visually in images and somatically through body sensation. For this reason, art therapy, a non verbal expressive and body based approach, may be ideally suited for facilitating the healing of complex psychological trauma. This paper will illustrate the use of art therapy in resolving traumatic memories in the case of a woman with complex trauma. The author, an art therapist and social worker, utilized a modified EMDR protocol with bilateral stimulation: tapping the body while the patient created consecutive images on paper. It is hypothesized that the tapping facilitated a relaxation response and aided the processing of negative emotion while the creation of imagery produced a tangible graphic narrative tracking shifts in emotional states and making the process visible. Once the trauma processing was complete, the art productions were reviewed with increased insight and reflective distance. Ultimately, the patient was able to make a dramatic shift in both cognition and perception, and a desired, positive outcome was achieved. Learning Outcomes Gain an awareness of the power of the image to express and contain trauma Describe a modification of the EMDR protocol that introduces art making and tactile bilateral stimulation Understand the significance of using non verbal approaches in healing of complex psychological trauma






Tally Tripp

Original Work Citation

Tripp, T. (2010, April). Every picture tells a story: Art therapy and trauma processing. Presentation at the 2nd Bi-Annual International European Society for Trauma and Dissociation Conference, Belfast, Northern Ireland



“Every picture tells a story: Art therapy and trauma processing,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 28, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/21390.

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