3 Ways Art Therapy Helps With Trauma

Carin Fausett is an artist, who has received honors and invitations to speak from some of the top museums in Utah. Her story is interesting and inspiring.

Carin: I think I relate to a lot of people. Difficult childhood, I was visually and hearing impaired so that isolated me a lot. That became a problem later on in a marriage where I needed to know how to communicate, I needed to know how to solve issues instead of just hiding. It made the situation more difficult. I needed to use what I did have, which was the artistic ability to communicate to study addiction, to study recovery.

Art can help with trauma by:

  1. It can help express emotion.
  2. It can be empowering.
  3. It helps with self-efficacy.

Anne: I don’t meet a lot of recovery artists every day. I looked at your art and it was so beautiful and moving. Carin how did you begin your life of learning about addiction and coping?

What Type Of Trauma Can Art Therapy Be Used With?

Carin: It was kind of baptism by fire. I got married. I thought I had a good foundation, only to find out that my husband’s family had a lot of issues that I wasn’t aware of. This led to him living the way he thought that relationships and families were supposed to be. It involved lying. It involved covering things up.

It involved a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms that were very hurtful and that led to a lot of trauma, where I would put up walls, isolate myself even further, not communicate. Of course, nothing would get solved, very dysfunctional. It became a really bad cycle, because I needed to take responsibility for my actions, but I didn’t know how. This led to my shopping, eating, anger. Really, not healthy cycles.

Anne: It sounds like these patterns of addiction and betrayal trauma started showing up in your family. Up until we met, you had processed these in the context of codependency. When I wrote you, very interested in your art, and I said, “We use the trauma model.” You said, “That is very helpful.”

Tell me about how the patterns showed up in your family, and then what you thought of them in the context of codependency, and where you are at now, with this first introduction to the trauma model.

Why Can Art Therapy Be Useful For Trauma?

Carin: I did notice a cycle of betrayal that resulted in trauma. This unseen wound, which led to PTSD symptoms within myself, which created a wall within myself. I was not able to receive or give love.

Anne: Did you notice that with lots of people around you? Did you start forming this wall with friends and family and other people?

Carin: I became very selective in who I would talk with. I would function, I would talk to people, but I wouldn’t let people in. I was very good at just doing what was expected, getting along, making things smooth, but I was not good at being personal and talking to people in a real way. I became very non-authentic for a long time and it really hurt me. It hurt my art. It hurt my relationship. Just a few years ago, it came to a head where I could see what I had done. It happened when my son, he came clean about his addiction. It really hit me that things had to change.

Obviously, we can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves. That meant I had to do some really deep work on who I was, what I was doing, and why. I had to get to the root of it. When I was able to do that, I was able to start healing.

How Does Art Therapy Treat Trauma?

Anne: As you focused on your own healing, what kinds of breakthroughs have you seen in your marriage, and in yourself, and in your sons? How have these breakthroughs played out?

Carin: One night, coming back from a class and I knew I had to be honest with myself and with him, which meant I would have to talk to him in a real way about what was really important. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in the past couple years. I’ll tell you, finding out about two of my sons having porn addictions, that was harder. Harder to talk to my husband about what I really felt, because I didn’t feel safe.

I, in my head, did not feel safe talking, because I had shut down that much. I had shut down my feelings, I had shut down certain memories as a protective measure. I was able to get really honest and have that breakthrough in that I had to communicate, even though it was so difficult. Another breakthrough was with my sons.

Art Therapy Helps To Heal Trauma

I was so glad that they could talk to me about what they were going through, but it was really hard. One of the best things I learned was that I needed to trust them to be themselves, which meant that they would mess up. It was vital for them to have a chance to fail or succeed.

Anne: I don’t know if I would use the word trust. I would probably use the word let go. Because I might not trust that someone’s going to make the best decisions for themselves, but am I willing to let go.

Carin: The way I think of it is I trust them to be them, themselves. Which means I’ve seen their mistakes. It leads me to being able to say, “Okay, I know this person. I know what they’ve done before. I trust them to be themselves. I trust me to be me. To expect anything different is counterproductive.” Then that was a step up for me.

Anne: I’ve never heard of that before. For me, I would say, “If I’m going to trust my ex-husband to be himself, then I know I can’t trust him.” If I’m going to trust my son to be himself, then I know I need to set boundaries around this, because I don’t want the chaos to come into my home, or something like that?

Expression Can Be Fostered With Art Therapy

Carin: Yes. Because that’s what they’ve shown us, right?

Anne: Is that what you’re saying? That’s interesting. I haven’t thought of it that way. What would you say are the most helpful insights that you’ve learned over the past 25 years?

Carin: I’ve tried to narrow this down. The first and foremost thing is that we cannot control other people. We can model what we’d like them to do. We can show them. I think that’s more effective than telling anyone what we want them to do, modeling what we hope.

We can give them choices that we are comfortable with. For example, I am happy to pay for your cell phone, if it has protection software on it. We can set boundaries, for example, I will be making food for the people who are kind to me, or I would love to go out with you when you are a fun date. Also, we can create peace within ourselves that others will gravitate to. I’ve seen it time and again.

Basically, I think it’s really important to be the peace and love that you want to see and always acknowledge and remember that you get to choose how you feel, no matter what the people do around you. This is, probably, the hardest thing to do, to choose how you feel, but it is, perhaps, the most powerful.

Art Therapy Can Spark Creativity

One of the last ones would be we cannot and should not try to force or coerce another person to our way of thinking or living. This always backfires. It is always important, though, to set boundaries. Don’t try to take responsibility for anyone else’s choices. It will destroy you.

It’s best if I focus on myself, my healing, my responsibility for my choices, and to be lovingly honest with myself as well as my family. In fact, just this week I had to get really honest and examine my own behaviors again, where they were coming from and what kind of help I needed to feel peace again, so that I can achieve what I want.

Anne: Let’s talk about your art, because I love it. I’ve looked at your paintings and thought they were so beautiful. I want to know about your Addiction Recovery Exhibit. I want to talk about the different ways that women can process their trauma, the creative ways that they can express themselves. We have never talked about this form of processing on the podcast, so I would really like you to spend some time talking about how you processed your experience through this medium.

Carin: Oh, awesome. I love this. As far as the Addiction Recovery Exhibit goes, that is something that resulted from when my oldest son came clean. He actually told his entire story on Facebook, became public with it. Gave up the complete secrecy of it all. I saw this weight lift off of him from this dark, self-centered space, into this space of light and hope. It didn’t mean he did not mess up again, he did. He was able to continually move forward in a really positive way.

How Can Art Therapy Help To Heal Betrayal?

Because of that, I started painting the 12-Steps to study them, I was able to see it from a whole different perspective. It’s a visual perspective instead of a word, a language. It’s more about feelings. It’s about your heart and your head being engaged, instead of just logic or emotion separately. When I started this 12-Step series, I was able to bring in organizations that support addiction recovery.

We are gathering artists, who are also able to now submit their artwork and tell their story, their resurrection, in a way, that’s the name of the show. Because, when you let go of all of that, you become, essentially, a whole new person. You’re able to realize that you are a powerful being, that you can move forward, and that you can help other people.

As far as the idea of using art to recover from something, seriously, it’s one of the most powerful things. You can give a child some artwork supplies, and you can say tell me how you feel. They may not have the language to do it, but they can portray how they’re feeling.

It doesn’t matter that this piece of art has not been put in a museum, you can feel how they’re feeling just by looking at it. You can get a really good picture, a story, even though they don’t have the language to tell you everything.

Trauma Models Can Include Art Therapy Interventions

You can do meditation and then get really centered and then you can have an image in your mind that you can put on paper or canvas or in clay and start to understand yourself even better, and where you’re coming from, and what you need to learn in order to progress. A lot of people have had breakthroughs just by doing that.

Anne: What I find really cool about the idea of art, even though I have not myself used it to process my trauma, is that I don’t have to talk. They don’t have to share the same story over and over again, because I’ve already said it a bunch of times—which is helpful.

I’m not saying that I haven’t really benefited from it, but I just like this new idea of processing it through another way and, perhaps reaching it in a way that I couldn’t reach just by speaking.

Anne: I’d love to have you help me out here, because I am very artistic when it comes to writing. I love creating with words, that’s just another form of explaining it. But my artistic talents, in terms of drawing or painting—I’ll put it this way. If I could do Zumba and not have a mirror, I love it, but the second I look in the mirror, and I recognize how absolutely ridiculous I look, then I think, “Ah, I can’t do this anymore.”

How Does Trauma Respond To Art Expression?

This is kind of the same thing with art. If I could close my eyes and just create, and think, “Oh, this is so cathartic,” but the second I open my eyes and realize, “This art is so bad,” kind of shuts me down a little bit, because it really is terrible. What are your thoughts about that?

Even talking about it, I’m just thinking, “Ugh.” I was the person who did tole painting, tried my hardest, and then, literally, just throwing it in the trash on the way out. Even after I had tried as hard as I could, I would still be like, “This is terrible.”

Carin: When we are doing things, like tole painting, we are actually trying to do someone else’s art. That’s the problem, we’re not doing our own art. When you find a medium that is yours, this may require being a little messy, trying some different things—and not just a medium, but a style that is yours, then it won’t feel awkward, and you won’t have to feel like you’re trying so hard.

One thing you can do is to look at different painters. Maybe color field painters, maybe different line qualities. It’s not about displaying a figure. It’s about an emotion. I was able to teach a class at Addict to Artist, and we were talking about, “Is there feeling in this picture? It’s a Mark Rothko. It’s just color blocks.”

Can Therapeutic Art Help Treat Symptoms Of Trauma?

There was this resonance, this vibrancy to it and you could feel it. Because of that, it was a good piece of art. It wasn’t, “Oh, look, it looks just like a person.” That’s what a camera is for. What we tried to focus on was how does it feel. It’s really important, when you’re trying to heal, somehow, to figure out how you’re actually feeling.

Anne: I think, also, to recognize that I’m not ever going to be a professional artist, clearly, which is fine, and being okay with the process of it, rather than the result. I’m doing this because it helps my healing process, but not because I’m really expecting to have something that I could hang up on my wall afterward.

When I do attempt to do it, which is never because when do you just randomly pull out a canvas? I’m also thinking about, for example, I love gardening. I asked one of my neighbors, “How do you know if you’re a really good gardener?” He said, “If your garden is better than any of your neighbors.” I laughed, because I said, “Then I’m the best.”

There Are Many Ways To Do Art Therapy For Trauma

Carin: You’re a landscape artist.

Anne: I am an artist. I’m a garden artist, and this is the way I express my artistic abilities. Maybe if I start looking at other ways that I express myself, or process my emotions, that are not necessarily talking or writing. I’d just like my listeners to think about how you are processing your emotions.

You’re always going to process them through speaking. Having your voice and owning your voice is a really important part of healing. Then what are some other non-verbal ways that you can express your emotions and process your emotions? Because, like I said, I really doubt that everybody had a 4×4 canvas in their home and full work-up of oil paints. Or maybe they do, I don’t know.

Carin: The important thing is to recognize your voice and to communicate verbally and non-verbally, because that leads to connection. You’re going to find a solution and coping mechanisms that are really healthy. They’re going to support you, support your family and you’ll be able to actually heal from secrets or shame and to be able to move forward.

Trauma Can Be Managed With Expressive Art

The Resurrection Exhibit, which is Carin’s series about the 12 Steps, will be at the Cottonwood Heights City Building in Cottonwood Heights.The show itself runs from May 1 to the 31. The opening night is May 5 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Cottonwood Heights City Building in Utah. If you want to submit art or support the cause check out her website. 

Because we have women from all over the world, I apologize for those of you who can’t make it to that exhibit in Utah. However, we have listed the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group sessions in five different time zones. We have U.S. Mountain, U.S. Eastern, the UK, Australia-Sydney, and New Zealand-Auckland.

Please donate to grants for women. Those grants are for women to get BTR services, so that they can join the Recovery Group, or they could schedule register a desperately needed indvidual session.

We appreciate your support.

Until next week, stay safe out there.

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