Tools for Healing: Art Journaling

Jan 27, 2023

Survivors have lived through experiences that most of us cannot even imagine.

Regardless of the treatment they have received, are receiving, or the relative safety of their current situation, the residue from the pain and trauma they experienced never truly goes away.

It is important for survivors to be able to express their feelings, but often having conversations with friends or family is too painful, and often, these confidants– regardless of their willingness to care and listen – just can’t relate. Art journaling is a way for survivors to work through their past experiences and painful memories, and allows them to express their current feelings, helping them live through another day where the fear of the unknown can cause great anxiety.

At The Salvation Army’s Thatiana’s House, each survivor is gifted a blank journal where each page can have its own piece. Survivors participate in art journaling sessions where they can use color and drawing to be inherently creative to assist in their recovery. They don’t need to have the words or ability to express themselves for it to have many positive benefits. Rather artistic journaling provides a gentle, non-confrontational way to work through the challenging range of emotions that still live within them. For people who have experienced trauma, expressive art journaling is often and ideal tool for healing and recovery.

The program instructor guides survivors through the art exercises and encourages them to let their minds wonder and the art to guide them. Different materials are used, including stencils, paint, stickers, cutouts from magazines, and other tools for their pages.

Survivors are encouraged to be inspired and incorporate the world around them into their art. One artist chooses a leaf from the ground and glues it to her canvas, while another used a yogurt cup for the perfect circle, and another piece uses the rivets on the inside of a Starbucks hand warmer as a sponge to create a pattern with paint.

One survivor said, “I’m not a crier, but the art journaling has allowed me to find a release. I keep a journal of my own and will put my feelings on the page when I become overwhelmed.”

When an emotion overcomes her, she gets into her creative mindset immediately in order to get it out of her system. She finds that once it’s on paper -- having gone from an experience or thought to a shape or abstract figure on paper -- something changes.

“When it’s on paper, it’s tangible, making whatever is busying my mind more manageable. It’s like I’ve captured it,” she says. “Whatever emotion I am feeling, be it pain, anger, disgust, whatever that emotion was, is then gone.”

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