CJ 720 Trauma & Crisis Intervention Blog

childhood trauma

By tnvuDecember 10th, 2023in CJ 520, CJ 720

Childhood trauma, which includes experiences such as abuse and neglect, casts a long shadow on one's life, leaving indelible marks on one's mental health and relationships. Based on my personal experiences with difficulties, I've realized the profound impact it has on emotional well-being. Addressing childhood trauma is critical for healing, requiring compassion for oneself and a commitment to breaking the cycle of pain.

Childhood trauma is frequently manifested in mental health issues ranging from anxiety to depression. My journey has taught me the value of acknowledging the impact, encouraging open dialogue, and breaking the silence surrounding these experiences. By sharing our stories, we not only de-stigmatize the conversation about trauma, but also create a safe space for healing and resilience. Seeking professional help, participating in therapies, and developing a trusting network are all important steps in the ongoing journey toward recovery and self-discovery.

Yoga and Mindfulness: An Effective Approach for Trauma Recovery

By cfoulemDecember 7th, 2023in CJ 720

The synergy between Yoga and Mindfulness has emerged as an invaluable approach to healing from trauma, encompassing physical and mental well-being. Yoga, a practice revered for centuries, has evolved into "trauma-informed yoga," tailored to aid trauma survivors by prioritizing safety, breath awareness, and embodiment over traditional correction-based methods. This approach emphasizes modified movements, steering away from complexity towards fostering an environment conducive to healing through safety, predictability, and repetitive patterns. (Emerson et al., 2009)

David Emerson's advocacy for trauma-sensitive yoga highlights the need to understand the scientific basis behind this approach as it reduces “autonomic sympathetic activation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improves neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decreases physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increases the quality of life” (Emerson et al., 2009) The Yoga Service Council's guidelines further underscore the importance of creating safe environments and employing invitational language, refraining from assumptions while focusing on strengths-based teaching models for post-traumatic growth. (Rousseau, 2023) Depending on the individual’s needs, Spence, the author of “ Trauma-informed yoga: A toolbox for therapists: 47 practices to calm,  balance, and restore the nervous system”, divided yoga practices into four categories: Calming practices, balancing practices, energizing practices, visualizations, and meditations. (Spence, 2021). It is also essential to understand that yoga is not one-size-fits-all, as mentioned in the book by Spence. The practice looks different for everyone every day, depending on one’s needs at that time. Complementing yoga's effectiveness, mindfulness has surfaced as a potent tool in trauma recovery. Originating from the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness involves non-judgmental observation of physical and emotional experiences to foster clarity and diminish self-criticism. (Rousseau, 2023) This practice aids in reducing negative thinking patterns and reconstructing neural structures affected by trauma.

Mindfulness, adaptable to diverse practices such as focused breathing and guided meditation, accommodates individuals at different proficiency levels, fostering gradual integration. Resources available on platforms like Mindful offer comprehensive support, catering to individuals' varied needs during their mindfulness journey. (Rousseau, 2023)

The transformative potential of mindfulness in trauma recovery lies in its cultivation of non-judgmental awareness. By encouraging individuals to observe sensations and emotions without criticism, mindfulness facilitates mental reformation, empowering individuals to acknowledge experiences without letting them define their present state.

Scientifically, mindfulness profoundly impacts brain restructuring, facilitating rewiring of thought patterns disrupted by trauma. This cognitive restructuring aids in symptom alleviation while contributing to long-term healing and resilience-building.

The combination of trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness presents an empowering avenue for trauma survivors, fostering healing, resilience, and the rediscovery of autonomy in life. This cohesive practice offers a transformative journey toward holistic recovery from past adversities. However, relying solely on yoga as a therapeutic intervention may have limitations due to the diversity of individual needs and varying levels of trauma experienced. While this approach is an effective treatment, its efficacy might be enhanced by integrating complementary methods tailored to individual requirements.


Emerson, David, et al. “Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice, and Research.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy, vol. 19, no. 1, 1 Oct. 2009, pp. 123–128, https://doi.org/10.17761/ijyt.19.1.h6476p8084l22160.

Rousseau, D. 2023. Module 4. Boston University. 

Spence, J. (2021). Trauma-informed yoga: A toolbox for therapists: 47 practices to calm,  balance, and restore the nervous system. PESI.


Building Resilience for Posttraumatic Growth

By gem1December 7th, 2023in CJ 720

Gayle Demarest -Blog Post- METCJ720 -Trauma and Crisis Intervention

We often hear about people who experience adverse and traumatic experiences and who become eventually diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, from either acute short-term trauma or chronic trauma, which lasts over a long period and can cause significant physical and mental illness (Rousseau, 2023). We hear less about people who resiliently recover from their experiences and thrive into posttraumatic growth.

Resilience is a buffer to becoming diagnosed with PTSD and allows us to adapt successfully in the face of adversity and stress (Horn et al., 2016). One can innately have resiliency or build resiliency to protect oneself from traumatic events. Resilience can also be taught to PTSD patients, potentially moving them into posttraumatic growth.  Several advances in the study of trauma and resilience have shown a greater understanding of how individual strengths, protective factors, and the adaptational responses of human beings can build our resilience to overcome adversity (Horn et al., 2016).  An essential step for all trauma survivors, according to Van der Kolk, is the importance of treatment provided early on,  preferably right after the trauma. If too much time passes, the traumatized person or group can become emotionally numb and only able to relate to their traumatic memories. This delay creates a setback to treatment and could steer someone toward a diagnosis of PTSD rather than posttraumatic growth (van der Kolk, 2014).

Certain protective factors have been identified in recent studies of children exposed to the extreme traumas of war (forced displacement, bombings, and rapes), including solid social support systems, religious beliefs that show meaning in suffering, and positive bonding with a caregiver. (Horn et al., 2016).  Individuals who can overcome a moderate stressor, like the death of a family member, may be able to be resilient to later stressors (Horn et al., 2016). This phenomenon is known as stress inoculation. Additionally, if an individual has control and agency over a stressor, it is less likely to become unmanageable (Horn et al., 2016).  Cognitive reappraisal is an emotion-regulating strategy often used by resilient individuals; this skill allows one to monitor negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones (Horn et al., 2016).

Rousseau states that the outcome of exposure to a traumatic event is more dependent on the inner workings of the person who experienced it than the event itself (Rousseau, 2023).  In the TED talk by Jane McGonigal, she shares that some individuals use traumatic events as a springboard to live a better life than before and that we do not have to suffer. Strengths that can lead to posttraumatic growth include mental, physical, social, and emotional resilience. If an individual can work on these areas within themselves, they are likely to experience healing from their trauma and regain a meaningful life (Rousseau, 2023). Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, points out that only through connection with others can survivors leave behind their vulnerabilities and regain their sense of self (Rousseau, 2023). In B.U. student Brogan Gerhart’s film review of “Boys and Men Healing: From Child Sexual Abuse” (2023), she writes about the widely unspoken issue of sexual abuse against men and boys and the lack of resources they have available to them for healing. She states that most of the survivors in the film found healing and resilience in connecting with other male survivors of child sexual abuse (Gerhart, B. film review, 2023).

Resiliency comes in many forms, all essential to the healing process, and if we commit to working on ourselves to improve those skills and characteristics within, we can all move toward healing and posttraumatic growth, redefining our lives and making new memories, leaving behind the traumatic ones. Building resilience is there for all of us, and there are multiple roads to get there.



Gerhart, B. (2023). Review: Boys and Men Healing: From Child Sexual Abuse [Film] directed by Barbini, 2011. Boston University, MET CJ720 Trauma and Crisis Intervention. Accessed December 5, 2023. https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/boys-and-men-healing-from-child-sexual-abuse-2.

Horn, S. R., Charney, D. S., & Feder, A. (2016). Understanding resilience: New approaches for preventing and treating PTSD. Experimental neurology, 284, 119-132.

Rousseau, D. (2023). Trauma and Crisis Intervention. Module 1. MET CJ720. Boston University.

Van der Kolk, B.A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Viking Penguin.




Exercise as a Form of Therapy

By anzarouDecember 5th, 2023in CJ 720

We all know exercise is an important part of our daily routine. While many use it as a way to stay fit and healthy, some also use it as an outlet for trauma, specifically PTSD. Our nervous systems are incredibly delicate, so when we experience trauma, it can throw off the whole body. This triggers anxiety, depression, panic, sleep disorders and many more symptoms. The Trauma Institute and Child Trauma Institute explain how different movement techniques help people gain confidence and overcome their trauma (Lederman & Greenwald, 2023). In addition to different movement techniques overcoming trauma barriers, running and walking even 30 minutes a day can lower stress levels and improve quality of life (Lederman & Greenwald, 2023). Other types of healing exercise include yoga, where not only is the person exercising but they are also practicing mindfulness and self-control (Rousseau, 2023). Group exercise can also help people overcome trauma. Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score explores this citing “...the third group engaged in a routine exercise program…after three months the participants reported that they felt happier and healthier” (2014). 

Of course, there is a line that needs to be drawn in order for the exercise to not become an addiction. This can often happen to victims of trauma, where they supplement feeling depressed or anxious for exercise (Van der Kolk, 2014). Numbing, as it is often referred to, can have a negative impact on mental health just as much as suffering from trauma. Victims have reported emotional restrictions after a traumatic event, thus needing to supplement with the sort of happiness that exercise can give (Litz & Gray, 2002). Being able to identify when the exercise addiction is causing the victim to become emotionally numb is key to overcoming PTSD. This is why regulation and speaking with a mental health professional is important for the patient. 

Many forms of exercise have helped victims work through trauma. It is a great self-care technique and when done in groups, can lead to an emotional release and/or relationship building. 



Lederman, I., Greenwald, R. 2023. Exercise to support trauma healing. Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute. https://www.ticti.org/exercise/

Litz, B. T., & Gray, M. J. (2002). Emotional numbing in posttraumatic stress disorder: current and future research directions. The Australian and New Zealand journal of psychiatry, 36(2), 198–204. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1614.2002.01002.x

M.D., B.V.D. K. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. Penguin US. https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/books/9781101608302

Rousseau, D. 2023. Module 2– Childhood trauma. Boston University. https://learn.bu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-12438218-dt-content-rid-91015208_1/courses/23fallmetcj720_o2/course/module2/allpages.htm

Parent Centered Treatment Impacting Children’s Trauma

By depietriDecember 2nd, 2023in CJ 720

During the semester, we have studied many interesting facets about trauma and specifically methods aimed towards treating trauma in children and adults. For example, in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and EMDR, a therapist works directly with the victim-survivor to help reduce their symptoms and triggers that may be affecting their behaviors and day-to-day living. For the most part, these treatments targeted the afflicted individual and did not explore treatments with a wider scope that included family members and, perhaps, members of the community. A few of the materials we looked at did suggest a wider-scope approach.

As part of the documentary film review assignment, I watched a documentary titled “Trauma & Dissociation in Children I: Behavioral Impacts” by Fran Waters. This film touched on the difficulties trauma-survivors face and suggested an even better form of treatment for young victim-survivors is to work with their parents. I learned how treating parents and other guardians may be a more effective approach than working with children directly to reduce their symptoms. What was not explored in the materials we looked at, however, was the willingness of parents and other guardians as well as others who are trying to help them, such as social workers, to actually undergo these forms of treatment. One of the interesting questions raised surrounding this topic is how practical these solutions are. Would the majority of parents be willing to undergo this treatment for the sake of their children’s well-being? Alternatively, if such treatment was imposed upon them by either the court system or some other administrator, could this form of therapy still be as beneficial given the resistance it would likely face? It would be interesting to further explore these more practical aspects of the treatment.

Waters, F. (n.d.). Trauma & Dissociation in Children I: Behavioral Impacts. Kanopy. Retrieved from https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/trauma-dissociation-children-i-behavioral-impacts?vp=bu. 

The Relationship Between Trauma and Incarceration

By John HollandAugust 17th, 2023in CJ 720

When discussing trauma in the incarcerated population I was struck by the stories of what these people had endured. I wanted to dive a little deeper on the connection between incarceration and trauma to give a more well-rounded image of what incarcerated individuals experience.

To begin it has been found that PTSD occurs at significantly higher rates in incarcerated individuals compared to the general population (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). There is about a 300% increase between the two populations with PTSD symptoms occurring in 4% of a studies community population and 48% of the studies incarcerated population (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). Incarcerated individuals are also found to have more likely experienced trauma in childhood that non-incarcerated populations (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). While in prisons though, assaults and other traumatic interactions are found to be underreported but contribute greatly to the increased percentage of people developing or experiencing PTSD symptoms (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). This does not end after incarceration though. Many of these individuals struggle with reentry into their communities. While in prison they are likely very bottled up and unable to process or share the thoughts and feelings they are having. This can contribute to more negative outcomes due to unmanaged symptoms which is one of many factors that increases the likelihood of reoffending (Morrison, 2022). The process of reentry is heavily reliant on family/friends, service providers, and community members (Morrison, 2022). Symptoms of untreated trauma such as insomnia, hypervigilance, hyper-reactivity, difficulty with attention and concentration, and paranoia can greatly strain these relationships and hinder the process further (Morrison, 2022).

These issues are a significant factor in why incarceration is often cyclical. We need to shift to a more trauma informed approach to both incarceration and reentry if we want a solid way to tackle the relationship between trauma and incarceration. Many of these prisoners do not have a robust support system so I would suggest improving things on the inside of the system first as many problems arise from the culture within prisons. I strongly believe that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” but we won’t get there unless work is put in to be more informed on how the system and trauma play a role in the damage being done.



Hodges-Pietryka, M. (2022). Stories of Revictimization During Incarceration: The Returning Citizen's Experience (Order No. 29319933). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2707688376). https://ezproxy.bu.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fdissertations-theses%2Fstories-revictimization-during-incarceration%2Fdocview%2F2707688376%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D9676

Morrison, M. (2022). Trauma Exposures across the Life Course for Individuals Who Experience

Incarceration (Order No. 29325001). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2705437979). https://ezproxy.bu.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fdissertations-theses%2Ftrauma-exposures-across-life-course-individuals%2Fdocview%2F2705437979%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D9676

Trauma Informed Care through Art Therapy

By sreadenAugust 17th, 2023in CJ 720

Trauma is a unique experience; no two people will experience trauma in the same exact way, thus the impact and responses to trauma are unique as well.  To better understand the various responses to trauma, research has found trauma is stored in the body through our somatic memory, specifically, the nervous system in the brain (Van der Kolk, 1994).  Furthermore, trauma can manifest through somatic flashbacks in the form of physical sensations, including tastes, smells, pain and haptic experiences.  Somatic flashbacks support the notion that memories, particularly trauma experiences, are stored in visual form.  When a traumatic event occurs, the Broca’s area of the brain, responsible for language, shuts down.  Simultaneously, the amygdala, the recognition center for danger in the brain, is put on high alert, resulting in the brain visually recording the traumatic event (Rausch et al., 1996).

To help individuals work through trauma that is held visually and physiologically, imagery and verbal expression can be introduced.  In particular, art expression has been found to effectively assist in grappling with sensory memories and facilitating a narrative to explore memories and flashbacks (Malchiodi, 2003).  When somatic memories are explored through art expression, an individual is able to develop an understanding of why they may be experiencing certain physical sensations to a particular event.  A unique feature of art therapy is that interpretation of the art created is completely up to the artist, allowing them to create their own language of expression.  Moreover, art therapy promotes growth, self-expression, emotional reparation, conflict resolution and transformation (Malchiodi, 1998).

A positive aspect of art therapy is that it provides a medium, art and its subsequent expression, that is not available in many other therapies and forms of expression.  However, caution should also be taken when using art therapy.  Art therapy should be used as art and therapy, with the understanding art is not therapy on it own.  Rubin (1999) stresses “therapy is not enough; art is not enough either”.

There are many forms of trauma-informed art therapy, below are common modalities utilized within carceral settings and how they allow for self-expression.

  • Dance: (hip hop, jazz, tap, modern) creates awareness and develops connection with the body; allows for expression of fear anger, hope, happiness
  • Music/Poetry/Writing: expands capacity for self-expression
  • Theatre: improvisation, play reading, script analysis; creation of scenes to replay responses to an event
  • Visual Arts: (painting, sculpting, pottery, collage) allows for expression of visual and emotional feelings; creates a starting point for dialogue and exploration

San Quentin State Prison, California, has a program called ArtReach which “provides a platform for artists on San Quentin’s death row to exhibit their art and creativity”. I invite you to peruse the site.  The art created includes paintings, drawings, poems, and papers.  Many of the poems and drawings capture the trauma of incarceration, being on death row, as well as self-revelations, personal growth, and peace.   https://www.artofsanquentin.com/


Malchiodi, C. A. (1998). The art therapy sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House.

Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2003). Handbook of art therapy. New York, NY: Guilford

Rausch, S.L., van der Kolk, B. A., Fisler, R.E. & Alpert, N.M. (1996) A symptom provocation study of posttraumatic stress disorder using positron emission tomography and script-driven imagery. Archives of General Psychiatry. 53(5), pp.380-387.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1(5), 253–265.

The impact of stress in our lives

By Paola LedesmaAugust 17th, 2023in CJ 720

Life, our existence is nothing more than a condition where we have the rationality and capacity to function. We go through a number of stages that are supposed to teach us everything that we need to know to learn how to live and how to survive until death reaches us. These stages are infancy, toddlerhood, preschool years, early school years, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood. Yet, no one quite clearly can explain to you what events are going to transpire in your life that will scar you, what experiences are you going to go through that will activate your stress hormones and put them on a loop, how to handle strong emotions or emotions at all, how to understand your feelings or mental state, or how much life really hurts, disappoints, and feels like it suffocates you one day after the other. Now, all of these events are led by one piece, a masterpiece that feels like it dictates your life, stress.

We are all unique individuals that feel, think, and experience differently. Therefore, all of our individual experiences cannot be compared, and since they’re not alike we cannot fully understand what a person goes through until we live that same experience. Nevertheless, stress is a universal factor that causes an impact in all our lives. It might not be identical situations but it’s the same factor. So, what is stress? The World Health Organizations says that is “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation…is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats on our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree.”. So, the continuance of this factor in human beings causes an imbalance that affects the mind, brain, and body.

How does stress affect us? When our body is subjected to an event of experience that causes extreme stress our brain secretes stress chemicals and lights the neural circuitry on fire. It sends alerts to the hypothalamus that sends sensory signals to the amygdala. The amygdala then processes these signals as the image, sounds, smells, taste, and touch of the moment and decides how to interpret that information and what level of danger is perceived. In their connection the autonomic nervous system is activated, alongside with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Both of these in their respective ways tackle the fight, flight or freeze response of the body to the stress. Think of it as a car’s pedals (increase to acceleration and decrease to stop). All of these signals and responses are activated so quickly that the brain doesn’t even have a clue, it can’t be aware of the cascade of events happening so fast. So, the sympathetic nervous system stays on, continuously secreting stress hormones (for example, cortisol), thus impacting and aggravating the individual’s balance and well-being. This overwhelming impact to the individual is focused on their physiological and psychological state. It stands in the way of completing tasks, activities, and duties (studying or working), relationships (partners, family and friends), organ health (heart, stomach, lungs), nervous system function (various levels of body ache and pain), use of substances (illegal drugs like cocaine and opioids, alcohol, and tobacco), anxiety, depression, and much more. Therefore, we need to have certain tools ready at hand to cope, manage, and reduce that unavoidable and always present stress.

Now, how do we reduce those levels of chronic long-term stress? Well, some counter responses towards relieving stress that are available to all of us are due to the different techniques that scientists have come upon throughout time. For example, the relaxation response, a combination of different approaches that evoke a state of relaxation (deep breathing, focusing on calmness and tranquility, connection with God through prayer, yoga, tai chi, and more). Physical activity and movement therapy (stretching, walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing, singing, and more) to reduce the body’s levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol; and produce endorphins to heal. Social support triggers benefits in the well-being of a person. Some say that it helps with the setback of the healing process, improves the self-esteem and self-worth, encourages to keep working on one’s health, shows you other strategies or coping mechanisms, and you feel “loved”.

In addition to the previous mentioned, other ways to manage and assume control over stress is to establish a daily routine, nothing fancy, improve eating habits, prioritize getting enough sleep and rest. Also, limit the time that you spend on the internet (it can make you feel overwhelmed and more stressed), connect with nature, and reach out and seek medical assistance to take it one step further. When dealing with life, stress and stressors will always be present, and it’s completely natural to feel drained, frustrated, on edge, without words, enraged, gloomy, and more. But, do things for you, take care of yourself, modify or change your lifestyle if you have to, control your environment and your level of participation, establish your own time and what are your priorities, to what are you going to focus your energy on. All of this is normal, but what is not normal is not doing something about it, letting it beat, stump, and burry you. Putting yourself as number one as a priority in your life is extremely important, and taking care of your health is not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud and joyous about because not many people can or want to do it. That is what proves great important, that you take care of yourself and are one with yourself.


Boland, B. (April, 2023). All the Ways Stress Can Impact Your Life. BANNER HEALTH. Web page: https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/stress

Rousseau, D. (2023). Module 3: Neurobiology of Trauma. Retrieved from: MET CJ 720 O2 Trauma and Crisis Intervention Printable Lectures.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 4: Running for your life: The Anatomy of Survival. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 5: Body-Brain Connections. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Two, Chapter 6: Losing Your Body, Losing Your Self. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Four, Chapter 11: Uncovering Secrets: The Problem of Traumatic Memory. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Part Four, Chapter 12: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). Prologue, Facing Trauma. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.

World Health Organization. (February, 2023). Stress. Web page: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress#:~:text=Stress%20can%20be%20defined%20as,experiences%20stress%20to%20some%20degree.

Art as Therapy

By schaydenAugust 17th, 2023in CJ 720

“You gotta resurrect the deep pain within you and give it a place to live that’s not within your body.
Let it live in art. Let it live in writing. Let it live in music.
Let it be devoured by building brighter connections.
Your body is not a coffin for pain to be buried in. Put it somewhere else.”
- Ehime Ora

There are many modalities that can be helpful in the treatment of trauma. This post explores the benefits of creative expression as self-care and treatment using a specific and personal example - my mom. More than prescribed ‘art therapy’, the use of art as a therapeutic form of self-expression has helped my family in many ways. Because it is relevant to this story, I will preface this with a context of culture and history.

My mom suffers from PTSD and many physical ailments. There are many parts of her life she is just now correlating with trauma and others she may not remember yet. I inherited parts of her trauma and quickly assimilated into American culture; I was a child when we emigrated. We came to America at an inflection point of its contentious relationship with Iran, a country on the precipice of Revolution. Being a young mother, she left behind home and family for her safety and that of her child. I remember hearing bombs fly overhead while speaking on the phone from the U.S. with my grandparents in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. We heard and saw much war and death and many loved ones were lost.

Iran is a tumultuous, beautiful, democratic (at its roots), tyrannical, dangerous, powerful country. We are born from the soil of mixed contradictions, rich with historically significant contributions to mankind. Persians were originally of a monotheistic religion called Zoroastrianism, and hail from one of the oldest empires in history. This beautiful land, like any other, is filled with generational trauma.

In recent times, you may have heard the name ‘Mahsa Amini’, one of countless young people killed by a brutal regime for no reason. That trauma runs deep and wide, we felt it here in America and around the globe; it is directly contributory to pain we feel today (physical and otherwise). We protested the oppression and brutality; we donated, cooked, sang, cried, and rallied. It is difficult to process that much grief for that much death alone, so we feel strength in numbers, and we express that grief in artistic ways. Musicians write anthems, writers pen poems and novels, actors appeal on screens, we cook for and comfort each other. Integral to processing trauma, and to our culture, is art and expression. We are a traditional, communal people so our form of therapy usually revolves around community. It is not uncommon to see a group of Persian friends at a restaurant crying, laughing, eating, and crying some more. We express as much trauma as we hold. This is also common for other cultures around the world.

There are many different, effective ways to use creative expression as a form of self-care and treatment.

Dance Therapy

We learned from Bessel Van der Kolk that (in 2014) there was little known about how artistic forms of therapy “work or about the specific aspects of traumatic stress they address”. Kolk discusses some of the ways that artistic therapies have been measured and produced either disappointing or inconclusive results.

One form of dance therapy paired “nonverbal artistic expression with writing” by social psychologist James Pennebaker and dance/movement therapist, Anne Krantz. The study group that danced then wrote about a traumatic experience showed “better physical health and improved grade-point average. (The study did not evaluate specific PTSD symptoms.)”. Interestingly, when considering just writing therapy that focused on PTSD symptoms, it seems they were less successful when done in “group settings where participants were expected to share stories.” (Kolk, 2014, p.354). Sharing vulnerable thoughts and feelings publicly before readiness can feel more traumatic than healing.

Art & Creativity

Where culture or innate expression may not be a factor for everyone, traditional art therapy is a useful clinical approach:

“Characteristic for art therapy is the methodical use of art means as drawing, painting, collage, and sculpting to shape and express feelings, thoughts, and memories. Art therapy is distinguished from other forms of treatment by active performing and experiencing with art materials, by the visual and concrete character of the process as well as by the result of art making.” (Schouten, et al., 2015).

“Art safely gives voice to and makes a survivor’s experience of emotions, thoughts, and memories visible when words are insufficient.” Art and creativity can tap “into other parts of a person’s experience. It accesses information … or emotions that maybe can’t be accessed through talking alone … Using art therapy to treat PTSD addresses the whole experience of trauma: mind, body, and emotion.” (Fabian, 2019).

Studies have been conducted showing the effectiveness of different forms of art therapy (seen in these examples above) in combination with cognitive therapy for combat veterans with PTSD. “Art therapy may assist with integration of sensory memories and declarative memory and has been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD in a number of populations.” (Campbell, et al., 2016). They found that “Art therapy in conjunction with CPT was found to improve trauma processing and veterans considered it to be an important part of their treatment as it provided healthy distancing, enhanced trauma recall, and increased access to emotions.” (Campbell, et al., 2016).

Putting it Together
Integrating any type of art or creative expression into trauma therapy is an individual choice. There have been promising studies showing valuable contributions to the treatment of PTSD, enhanced by combining other treatments. Addressing trauma is complex since it can remain hidden in our bodies and minds, so "using a combination of traditional therapy techniques and alternative treatments such as EMDR, yoga, neurofeedback, and theater, patients can regain control of their bodies and rewire their brains." (Kolk, 2014, p.1).

For my mom, art has been helpful and productive as a form of self-care and adjunct to other therapies. Used in conjunction with other treatments, it takes on a calming, meditative quality that stills her mind and body. Joining treatments has helped unlock complex trauma that was hidden from her. This very personal, internal processing does not involve verbal expression, but emotion and thought come through as a physical creation. It is a form of healing during times when she struggles to identify where her trauma resides. Her creations are freehand, and it is in the moment of pure, joyous, creative expression that she does her best work. By her own account, when she is creating, she is 'lost in Zen space' with no concept of time, pain, or physical body. I believe it is in this space that she reconnects with her body and mind in a safe space.

Helpful as PTSD treatment, art “therapies can be helpful in reducing depression and trauma-related symptoms such as alexithymia, dissociation, anxiety, nightmares, and sleep problems… increasing emotional control, improving interpersonal relationships, and improving body image (Johnson & Lahad, 2009).” What is lacking from all articles on the efficacy and full benefits of PTSD treatment, however, appears to consistently be a lack of “robust information on their effectiveness”. It is possible that there have not been any ‘robust’ studies because art can take many forms, is highly subjective and contextual in nature, and is difficult to systematically analyze. From personal experience, I can say that art (in all forms) has been a healing, therapeutic tool for my family. I cannot imagine our lives without it.



Campbell, M., Decker, K. P., Kruk, K., & Deaver, S. P. (2016). Art Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Art therapy : Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 33(4), 169–177. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2016.1226643

Schouten, K. A., de Niet, G. J., Knipscheer, J. W., Kleber, R. J., & Hutschemaekers, G. J. (2015). The Effectiveness Of Art Therapy In The Treatment Of Traumatized Adults: A Systematic Review On Art Therapy And Trauma. Trauma, violence & abuse, 16(2), 220–228. https://doi-org.ezproxy.bu.edu/10.1177/1524838014555032

Debruge, P., Earl, W., Gleiberman, O., Moreau, J., Murphy, J.K., Saperstein, P., Shafer, E., Shanfeld, E., Seo, R. The 30 Greatest War Films. Variety.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, And Body In The Healing Of Trauma. Penguin. Amazon Kindle version.

Fabian, R. (2019, Aug 13). Medically reviewed by Legg, T.J., PhD, PsyD. Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD. Healthline.

Art & Talk Therapy. Retrieved on 2023, Aug 15 from https://www.aactherapy.com/art-therapy
Also referenced from: Ora, E. (2023, July). Ancestors Said: 365 Introspections for Emotional Healing. 1st ed. Hay House, Inc.

Is Social Media Traumatizing Us?

By sienasAugust 17th, 2023in CJ 720

On a rainy morning, I was getting ready to go on a tour in Dublin, Ireland. The older guide approached us and appeared to be very upset. He asked if we were okay, and if we needed some time before our tour started. Confused, we asked what was wrong. “Did you hear? A mass shooting happened this morning in America.” He was met with a few shrugs and “Yeah, that happens.” Shocked, he replied “If that happened here, we would probably shut down the city for weeks.”

It was in that moment, I began to think about why this group of American’s reacted this way. Besides the lack of action from political leaders, I thought about social media. For years, we have been exposed to violence and tragedy (virtually) right in front of us. In the live classroom this week, it was brought up about social media and having this information right at our fingertips. We have access to more information than ever, and it is quite overwhelming. Even this morning, I woke up to several news notifications involving death and tragedy with pictures attached.

Grace Dowd, a psychotherapist, says “Since we don’t always have enough time to digest one story before another breaks, we can sometimes end up feeling emotionally numb, helpless and immobile. This typically happens when our survival mechanisms are triggered.” Grace then adds, “Our constant access to social media and the news plays into this by continuing to provide access to information to the point where it no longer becomes shocking, and also by taking our attention away with the next crisis.” (Barnes, 2021) Mary Joye, a licensed mental health counselor, says “Repetition of [bad news and images] does damage to us through vicarious trauma.” (Barnes, 2021) Vicarious trauma was also discussed in our live classroom this week. Vicarious trauma is when the trauma does not directly happen to you, but you are affected by it. 

Sites created to share memories and watch funny videos have slowly turned dark over time. On apps such as TikTok, you can watch a cooking tutorial and the next video is a house exploding. How do we protect ourselves?

Limiting time on social media has been a great tool for me. I have seen a major decrease in anxiety. It allows me to process anything I have seen and reflect. As bad as it sounds, I have had to adopt the “ignorance is bliss” stance with trends on social media. Most of these “trends” have turned into a rabbit hole of anxiety inducing videos, such as “top 10 household products that will give you cancer”. I even have friends that set time limits on their phones, or have deleted social media all together. I strongly believe that if we decrease our social media use, society will greatly benefit from it. 


Barnes, S. (2021, Feb 21). "Social Media is Traumatizing Us More Than We Realize" https://www.huffpost.com/entry/social-media-traumatizing_l_602d2c88c5b673b19b654d88.