Dr. Ericha Scott sat down with Malibu Chronicle to explain how art therapy can help clients and the general public heal from trauma. Even more, she suggests that people are often able to center and reorient themselves after healed trauma to go on and live a full and competent life.
She pauses and says, “We are living in complicated and difficult times. We are all affected by what is happening on the world stage, regardless of nationality, political affiliation, gender, age, race or religion. Those of us who are privileged are not completely exempt, even if all that touches us is the cacophony of ceaseless news reports about mass suffering.”
A Malibu licensed psychotherapist, Dr. Ericha Scott uses the creative arts to help people find meaning and purpose regardless of their immediate situation or surroundings.
She notes that the Greek root word for trauma means wound. She finds that more people relate to the term wound than trauma. Trauma has been the center and focus of her professional work for 32 years. In her current private practice on Point Dume, and in various venues over time, Dr. Scott has worked with many forms of grief and loss: childhood traumas; physical, emotional and spiritual abuse; domestic violence; sexual harassment/molestation/rape; torture; and traumas related to accidents, natural disasters, terrorism, and war.
Dr. Scott has, as the saying goes, seen and heard it all. She firmly believes that the arts, all of the arts, including but not limited to, visual art, music, dance, theater, and creative writing, are well suited to address and ameliorate emotional and physical pain.
Science supports the use of creative arts to address trauma of all kinds. The creative arts engage the pre-verbal, nonverbal, metaphorical, symbolic and right-brained processes necessary to aid and reduce symptoms of trauma and abuse.
There are few words in our language that adequately express pain. To express emotional or physical pain to another human being we often rely upon metaphor.
Scott, 1999, p. 149
The visual arts, in particular, are able to access the parts of the brain where the psychological aspects of trauma are stored and/or circumvent the parts of the brain damaged by physical trauma. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that eighty-five percent of military patients at Walter Reed Bethesda Hospital report that art therapy has been helpful, and seventy-nine percent requested a follow-up music therapy session. For more information on the science behind the use of creative arts, see https://www.arts.gov/partnerships/creative-forces/why-healing-arts).
“Not only are the art therapies well suited to address trauma, grief and loss – they are also well suited to help those who suffer from developmental delays, compulsions and addictions (whether chemical or behavioral), traumatic brain injury, and dementia.” Dr. Scott said. “What I tell my trainees is that you can and may use art therapy with any issue or diagnosis. The challenge is to properly adapt and tailor the creative arts interventions for the specific individual needs of each population and person. In an amusing and rather simplistic example, twenty-five years ago, I learned not to use wet paints with a traumatized child, unless I wanted to wear most of the colors home.”
It all begins with trust.
“Trust between the client and therapist is an essential and critical aspect of successful counseling.” Dr. Scott said. “As one might expect, victims of profound early childhood trauma have the most difficulty trusting. Victims of childhood trauma experienced untrustworthy adults. Therefore, trust was undermined due to the violation of sanctuary and especially the betrayal by a loved one. This break between the caretaker (not always a parent) and child, when the child was shaping his or her world view – can last a life-time and is able to contaminate all future relationships with others and/or the self.”
Dr. Scott notes that in today’s world many people, even those without an overt trauma history are expressing difficulty with trust. Many people feel betrayed or even sabotaged by recent financial and political upheavals. Others are frightened by serious illnesses that suddenly appear as threats from various parts of the world. Many of us in California have been concerned about drought conditions, extreme weather and/or natural disasters.
“Fortunately, art is a gentle, silent, but powerful voice. Art, in a session, becomes the co-counselor and leaves space and place for me to align in a very proactive and supportive way with a client.” Dr. Scott said. “Often, it is the art that best challenges psychological blocks or denial. A client might look at an art piece and say something to the effect of, “Gosh, this art piece is so chaotic, and…. so is my life, I never knew that before now. . . . In the art piece that has been included in this article, the initial intent was to portray joy . . . yet the trauma history clearly intruded, just as it does in life. The client acknowledges the concept of holding the paradox of joy and pain, freeing her from polarized, superficial and self-defeating ideas of emotional wellness.”
Dr. Scott tells the story about an alcoholic man who, looking at his art piece, realized that he loved his family and said, something to the effect of, “Suicide is no longer an option, I want my family back, I have to deal with the trauma because it is dealing with me, and I must stay sober to do it.”
“Suddenly, the client became assertively and proactively engaged in his own treatment process.” Dr. Scott recalls. “It seems as if the art product in therapy becomes a bridge to trusting the self. Trusting the self and/or the therapeutic process helps the client begin to trust the therapist. Art can even work as a therapeutic transitional object. Just as a teddy bear is able help comfort a young child while the parents are out for dinner, clients may refer to an art piece, instead of a teddy bear, to remind them of the safety of the therapy room.”
As clients progress, they can amplify and extend the healing process they experience in the art therapy room to home and beyond.
“Taking art home, a client is able to help maintain a bridge of connection to the therapist and safety in-between sessions. Art also helps clients see, in a concrete and somewhat measurable form, the psychological work they are doing.” Dr. Scott said. “Often clients understandably question ‘What have I accomplished in therapy?’ even as their lives are improving, because the processes appear to be so nebulous.”
Art functions as a memory mnemonic.” Dr. Scott explained. “In other words, art helps remind clients of the work they are doing and have done, even if trauma has negatively impacted their ability to focus and remember.”
The use of art therapy to address trauma and pain heals and that healing spills over into many areas of a client’s life.
“One of the many aspects of art therapy that I cherish is how a therapeutic art process helps the client to become creative in all aspects of life. I am from Texas and we have a corny expression for this type of unexpected bonus, we call it a “two-fer.” Clients use art to heal, and using art to heal helps the client to become more creative in all aspects of life.”
Scott, E. H. (1999b). The body as testament: A phenomenological case study of an adult woman who self- mutilates. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 26 (3), 149-164.
Ericha Scott, PhD, an award winning trauma and addiction psychotherapist uses the creative arts in the context of psychotherapy.
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, No. #917
Internationally Certified Advanced Addiction Counselor
Board Certified Registered Art Therapist
Registered Expressive Arts Therapist
WEB and SOCIAL MEDIA
Ericha Scott, PhD, LPCC917, licensed as E. Hitchcock Scott, a psychotherapist in Malibu…”
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Ericha Scott, PhD, LPCC917