Updated: Jan 27, 2019
A sensitive and insightful documentary, produced by Paul McNamara of Channel 4 News in the UK, exploring the benefits service personnel experience from using Art Therapy as a formal intervention for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is important to acknowledge that PTSD isn't only related to experiences of combat or service. The prevalence of PTSD in the general Australian population is estimated to be between 5 and 10% over the lifespan (see, Phoenix Australia). And according to research conducted by Karestan Koenan, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, far more women than men will experience PTSD.
Research continues into the best forms of treatment for PTSD. 'Best treatment' may be dependent on the type and severity of trauma exposure, and other factors unique to the individual, highlighting the importance of individualised care. Art therapy is an intervention that has been used in various forms for a long time and has a strong association with the treatment of PTSD in veteran populations. But it appears to offer benefit for treating and managing PTSD symptoms regardless of the type of trauma exposure, exactly how it works is not yet clear.
Creative Insights participant Girija Kaimal (and colleagues) in an observational study with military personnel cite that art therapy is beneficial for a variety of mental health conditions, and propose that an integrated behavioural/art therapy approach could be particularly effective for certain presentations. A claim supported in this study which suggests that art therapy may be most effective as a trauma intervention in combination with other clinical treatments. While a pilot study published in the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation proposes a novel bookend approach for art therapy, as a potential preparatory intervention for follow up trauma focussed treatment, and for people for whom other treatments have proven unsuccessful.
Findings from academic studies and anecdotal reports of symptom reduction, such as those in the above documentary, are incredibly encouraging and add weight to the need for further investigation into both the effectiveness of art therapy as a trauma intervention, and for the development of frameworks to better measure perceived efficacy.
If this topic interests you subscribe to our Creative Insights series which will explore art therapy and creative self expression for wellbeing with artists, clinicians, researchers and service providers from Australia and around the world over the coming months.
This blog series is not a substitute for independent professional health advice. Nothing contained in this series of articles is intended to be used as medical or psychological advice. It is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.
If material in this documentary or post has raised concerns for you, there is someone to talk with:
Note: Access to journal articles linked in this blog may be difficult without subscriptions.
This article provides great tips on accessing academic research for free.