Creative expression is important, especially for sexual assault survivors. Studies show that art can be an effective tool for healing in mental health treatment programs, where art therapy is an important component in patients’ treatment regimens. For survivors of sexual assault, art creates a safe, healthy outlet to express emotions and process traumatic memories.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a common type of mental health treatment for people who suffer from a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. During a session, an art therapist will guide survivors through a series of exercises to explore inner emotions and experiences, translating these feelings into a work of art.
Art therapy and art creation allows survivors to tap into experiences, memories, and emotions that may be too difficult to express out loud. Instead, survivors can translate their emotional experiences metaphorically through art, which can aid in the path to healing.
Survivors can use multiple forms of art to express themselves, aside from visual art. Many survivors engage in poetry, fiction writing, music composition, and many other forms of written, visual, and performance arts to aid in creative expression.
Benefits of Art Therapy for Survivors
Art therapy — and creative expression outside of therapist-driven sessions — can provide significant advantages for survivors’ mental health and processing of the traumatic event. Some of the most promising benefits include the following.
- Survivors often feel a great deal of stress after an assault, especially if they are battling a mental health condition like PTSD. Art allows for a healthy outlet to relieve both physical and emotional stress, allowing survivors to relax their bodies and minds.
- Survivors may lose their sense of self after an assault, due to how this violence robs a person of his or her agency. Art helps move thoughts and emotions from the subconscious to the conscious, allowing survivors to regain a sense of self and acknowledge these hidden feelings.
- Survivors may also suffer from lower self-esteem after a sexual assault. Creating a piece of art leads to feelings of accomplishment. Combined with a greater understanding of the self, art creation can help boost self-esteem.
- Studies show that creating art releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which produces feelings of happiness. Increased dopamine levels can help combat mental health conditions like depression.
- Art also provides a safe space for emotional release. Survivors may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol or drugs, in order to deal with the emotions following sexual assault. With creative expression, survivors are able to express complex emotions they may not have the words for, allowing for a healthier outlet.
Creating Art After Sexual Assault
Survivors who are interested in art therapy should seek out counseling sessions near them. Art therapists can operate in multiple locations, including hospitals, universities, art studios, group homes, and community centers.
If art therapy is not easily accessible, survivors can still create art at home. Sculpting, painting, playing an instrument, drawing, or even journaling can help survivors focus and reflect on their own emotional responses. In tandem with professional mental health treatment, creative expression can promote a healthier emotional state.
If you are struggling with the aftermath of a sexual assault, you are not alone. Help is available for survivors to seek justice and find pathways to recovery following this traumatic experience. Contact a sexual assault survivors’ attorney as soon as possible to connect with resources, learn about your legal options, and begin your healing journey.