This is the second blog where Lindsey, Director of Jill Carter Training and Integrative Sandplay and Trauma tutor explores the importance of working creatively with trauma.
Traditional Talk Therapy is Not Sufficient
Over the past few years there has been growing recognition that engaging exclusively in traditional talk therapy is not always sufficient to address the impact of trauma. Increasingly therapists are seeking approaches that will engage the whole of the mind/body system.
Bessel van der Kolk in his book “The Body Keeps The Score” explains that
“The nature of trauma is that you have no recollection of it as a story. The nature of traumatic experience is that the brain doesn’t allow a story to be created.”
But why is this? A number of factors contribute.
The Hippocampus and Memory
During trauma, flooded by cortisol, the hippocampus ceases to work, effectively going offline.
The hippocampus is involved with explicit autobiographical memory formation, storage and retrieval. It effectively creates a time stamp for autobiographical memories as they are created, providing a beginning, middle and end to a memory of an event. The result of the hippocampus being offline is that we have no timeline. Trauma also disrupts the brain’s capacity to combine information (like words, images, sounds, etc.) from different parts of the brain. Consequently, we are left with fragmented stories of events and no clear narrative.
Trauma and Implicit Memory
Traumatic events become stored implicitly. Implicit memories cannot be accessed consciously.
They are stored as emotional, sensory, physiological, and movement components and consequently are often experienced in the body. Flashbacks are implicit memories. Being unconscious body-based memories, they do not have a time stamp and therefore are experienced as if they are happening right now. During a flashback, the right hemisphere of the brain, is very active. The right hemisphere is involved with sensory and emotional experience.
Early childhood memories are also stored implicitly.
This is because the hippocampus does not develop fully until about the age of 3 years old. This is the point at which we begin to encode explicit (conscious memory). Early developmental trauma is therefore experienced as a somatosensory experience with no narrative to accompany it.
All of this explains why the experience of trauma often cannot be expressed adequately with words.
Creative Approaches Engage Implict Experience
The ‘story’ of the event is more easily accessed via sensory approaches such as painting and sandplay, movement and music which connect to implicit experience.
Approaches such as play therapy allow the spontaneous expression and processing of early often preverbal experience and associated implicit memory through creative expression. We are led by unconscious processes. Trying to put words to our experience will take us from our felt sense of the experience.
Lost for Words
And frequently the true horror of an event cannot be expressed adequately with words.
Studies have shown that when trying to recall a traumatic event, the Broca’s area of the brain becomes deactivated. Broca’s area, located in the left frontal cortex, is involved with the motor functions of speech and language production. When it is not “online” it is not possible to put thoughts into words. Often art, sand, music, or movement can offer a far more profound expression of a person’s experience than words ever could. Creativity gives clients a voice.
Expression Through Creativity
Externalising experience through creativity can create a tangible expression of their inner world.
This can make it feel more tolerable. And to share this experience with an empathic non-judgemental witness reduces isolation. Perhaps for the first time in a long while. Simply being in that moment, together, offers healing.
Come and Join Us!
If you are interested in exploring in working creatively with trauma, check out our next courses coming up soon.
Online Certificate in Working Creatively with Trauma.
5 Weekend Modules starting on 20th & 21st January 2024
You can book online here https://eu.jotform.com/build/220824611447048
Online Introduction to Working Creatively with Trauma
Weekend of 24th & 25th February 2024
Book here https://bit.ly/IntroTraumaFeb2024