CJ 725 Forensic Behavior Analysis Blog

Mental Illness In Women Offenders

By abraddMarch 1st, 2024in CJ 725

The national female incarceration rate is rising at a dramatic rate as compared to male offenders (Rousseau, 2024). However, there is seemingly less of a focus on treating the unique issues that come with female offenders. Correctional institutions have been used to treat female offenders with severe mental illness, who are not receiving the appropriate treatment for their diagnoses, calling for an immediate reform in our system to incorporate gender responsive mental health programming in our corrections departments.

Prisons have been commonly used as an alternative to a mental health facility for female offenders, however, these two types of institutions are incomparable in treatment needs. Placing mentally ill women in prison means that they must acclimate themselves to the regimentation and unquestioning obedience that keep prisons running smoothly, however, the behaviors required are simply beyond the abilities of most seriously mentally ill women (Lord, 2008). In a study by Janet Warren, clinical associate professor of psychiatric medicine at University of Virginia, her findings included that women inmates in her sample as more like women who were receiving inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment than to women in the community (Lord, 2008). The rate of PTSD among women in prison is believed to be twice the size of that among women in general population. Furthermore, the most common pathways into crime for women are based on survival of abuse and poverty and substance abuse (Rousseau, 2024). Warren found that there were two major clusters of diagnoses that the sample of female inmate’s personality disorders fell into, including tumultuous relationships, impulsivity, recklessness, susceptibility to substance abuse, and abuse in one cluster and suspiciousness, social awkwardness, and overly dependent attitudes and behaviors in another (Lord, 2008). These diagnoses are believed to be present prior to incarceration, and contribute to the behaviors that lead to incarceration, causing an immediate need for mental health treatment.

A prominent issue for incarcerated female offenders with mental illness is self-harm activities. Some mentally ill women self-harm exclusively, and some go between self-harm and violence, and if one woman self-harmed, others often followed because the nature of relationships between women cued much of their behavior, both positive and negative (Lord, 2008). Women offenders will use anything in reach to self-harm, such as screws, plastic, paperclips, staples, and anything else they may have access to. Most women offenders who self-harm during incarceration begin their self-harm behavior long before they get to prison. Most began to cut or swallow when they were young teenagers, often in juvenile facilities, on observing another girl cut or self-harm (Lord, 2008). Although some prisons punish self-harm, most prisons punish the behaviors associated with self-harm, however, cell confinement seems to result in yet more self-harm (Lord, 2008).

Many prisons create programs for mental health; however, they fail to create a therapeutic environment in doing so because ultimately, prisons operate on the basis of power and control. Prisons are not the best places for the mentally ill to develop a sense of autonomy or to experiment with new interpersonal skills (Lord, 2008). Prison is difficult for any offender, however mentally ill women offenders struggle greatly due to the lack of connection and relationships, such as with their family members. This issue is especially prominent with the lack of physical contact with their children specifically, and being unable to contact those they formed relationships with during incarceration upon release, leaving mentally ill female offenders isolated and lonely both inside and outside correctional institutions (Lord, 2008).

We must do what we can to address these disparities in mental health treatment for mentally ill female offenders, as prison is not always the answer to rehabilitation in these cases. Other interventions must be implemented to fully address and treat mental illness specific to the diagnoses commonly seen in justice involved women. “It is not that we do not know how to create meaningful changes to our prison and mental health systems, it is that we do not have the will to do so. It is far easier to put people who are dangerously ill behind walls and fences; in that way, we will never have to acknowledge their suffering” (Lord, 2008).


Lord, E. A. (2008). The challenges of mentally ill female offenders in prison. Criminal Justice and Behavior35(8), 928-942.

Rousseau, D. (2024b). Treating women offenders [Lecture]. Boston University, Forensic Psychology. Blackboard: https://onlinecampus.bu.edu/ultra/course

To Name or Not to Name?

By ctrottFebruary 28th, 2024in CJ 725

Hello All,

I am using one of my blog posts to start a discussion on an issue that Dr. Silver briefly touched on during our last live class session during his presentation. The topic that I am going to explore revolves around feelings and rationales for/against using the names of mass murderers when discussing their crimes. Dr. Silver, for example, made a conscious effort not to mention the names of the killers he discussed unless it was necessary to identify a particular event. As a research assistant during my time as an undergrad, we primarily used the initials of the domestic terrorists central to our research. In preparing to write this blog post, I sent a text message to the professor with whom I performed research and asked him the thought behind using an offender's initials. His reply: "...I guess for me, it started after Columbine upon learning the shooters wanted to be famous" (Pete Simi). While I understand the thought behind Dr. Simi's rationale, in the context of academic research, I still feel it most appropriate to refer to offenders initially using their first and last names.
In contrast to my undergrad experience, now working with individuals on death row, I better understand the settings in which it is undoubtedly most appropriate to forego mentioning their names. In my interactions with offenders, I use their names. Typically, offenders ask that I use their first names instead of "Mr." However, on and leading up to execution dates, I often interact with the families of the victims of the offender's crimes. I have come to learn that, collectively, victims' families would prefer not to hear the names of the offenders.
I do find it somewhat puzzling that victims' families want to avoid hearing the offenders' names, but they often elect to witness their executions. Frequently, during an execution, offenders will speak-- either informally or formally by way of their final statements. I am curious to her your thoughts on this. Are you surprised that victims' families report not being able to stomach hearing the names of offenders but still elect to watch them die? I fall on what I assume is the less common side of the argument-- I see no issue with researchers, speakers, and news reports using the names of offenders, so long as the actual context of their message does not glamourize or praise the offender's actions.

Trauma and its impact on our body

By kkicakFebruary 28th, 2024in CJ 725

Trauma and how trauma impacts the brain is something that I find interesting.  In my previous semester, one of the books I had read dealt specifically with how trauma impacts our brain and our body.  One thing that I think is incredibly interesting, is that they found that part of your brain essentially shuts down when you have a flashback or memory of a traumatic event.  The idea that an event can be so distressing and traumatic that it shuts down part of one of the most important organs that is responsible for keeping us alive.  This is something that I would want to research further in the future and learn more about.  Knowing that trauma can stunt our brain function, as well as be the source of multiple different illnesses and stressors makes me wonder if, as more research comes out as our technology advances, if there will be different and more ways that come out for treating trauma.    

DER, K. B. V. (2015). Body keeps the score brain, mind. PENGUIN Books.

Misinformation of crime through social media

By ayamatFebruary 28th, 2024in CJ 725

Today, information is obtained from more than just the local newspaper. News has become available in real-time at the tap of a button, through news apps, social media, live streams, and more. While society adapts to our widespread availability of information, it is critical that we recognize the pitfalls that misinformation in media may play in the criminal justice system.

In recent years, the frequency of mass killings has increased significantly. Specifically, 78 mass shootings occurred in the United States between 1983 and 2012 (Bartol & Bartol, 2021). In contrast, the Gun Violence Archive recently reported that approximately 650 mass shootings occurred in 2023. And while many serious crimes are cause for concern, multiple murder crimes like mass shootings can have profound effects on both the victims and their community. This is when our avid use of social media may pose an issue.

On October 1, 2017, a gunman began shooting at thousands of concertgoers during a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada (Blankstein et al., 2017). In the end, over 50 were killed and over 500 left injured (Blankstein et al., 2017). This incident would later become the country's deadliest mass shooting (Blankstein et al., 2017). As the shooting progressed, social media became flooded with misinformed reports of multiple shooters along the Las Vegas Strip. Local police officials later confirmed that the shooting was a single event, in only one area, executed by a sole gunman (LVMPD, 2018). In the midst of social media's instant reach, misinformation can quickly spread and induce even more hysteria or fear. Dr. James Alan Fox, a Northeastern criminology professor, raises a thought-provoking point: "In the face of hyperbolic media coverage and public fear, we tend to embrace easy solutions and quick fixes that don’t necessarily work and sometimes make matters worse" (SCCJ, n.d.).

Because of the prevalence social media has, we should consider how powerful posting may be to those involved, those waiting to hear news, and those who may have experienced similar trauma. Following a mass killing, social media may buzz for weeks or months about the perpetrator, their motive, resharing newly discovered materials on these individuals, and so on. Understandably, an involved individual may experience retraumatization or face difficulty moving forward during a social media frenzy. So, as we become engulfed in learning more about the how's or why's of these crimes, we must also be extremely sensitive to the impactful nature of them.



Bartol, C. R. & Bartol, A. M. (2021). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach (12th ed.). Pearson.

Gun Violence Archive. (2023). GVA - 10 Year Review [Data set]. Gun Violence Archive. https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD). (2018). LVMPD Criminal Investigative Report of the 1 October Mass Casualty Shooting. LVMPD.

School of Criminology & Criminal Justice (SCCJ). (n.d.) Mass Killing Database. Northeastern University. https://cssh.northeastern.edu/sccj/mass-killing-database/

Correcting Behavior, Causing Trama

By zmillrzFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

Mental illness is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the criminal justice system, particularly as it pertains to the corrections facilities many mentally ill people find themselves in. Due to the deinstitutionalization movement, many mentally ill individuals “are now living in the community and lack the kind of support services and job opportunities they need to stay out of trouble” (Kupers, 1999, p. 13). This leads to them becoming involved in the corrections system. Once they enter the system, many mentally ill inmates suffer greatly due to the conditions that prisons facilitate. Inmates may find themselves feeling stigmatized for becoming incarcerated, feeling afraid for their future, and feeling ignored by corrections staff (Kupers, 1999; Hayes, 2010). These factors work to make the symptoms of mental illness worse and can lead to significant trauma among mentally ill inmates, even leading some inmates to have mental breakdowns (Kupers, 1999). Additionally, the lack of awareness among correctional staff of the different types of mental illness and their presenting symptoms can lead to issues later on. For example, some inmates with mental illness may have a hard time understanding and complying with correctional officers’ orders and might be punished for it (Kupers, 1999). These officer-inmate interactions can even become deadly (Kupers, 1999). 

Because of these factors and adverse conditions, “suicide continues to be a leading cause of death in jails across the country,” according to a study conducted by the Hayes with the National Institute of Corrections (2010, p. 1). Most citizens of the United States approach incarceration with an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset, but inmates are still people and are worthy of proper care and respect. As such, it’s increasingly important that steps be taken to prevent this high number of suicides in the corrections system. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (2011) identifies the training of correctional staff to recognize the warning signs of suicide to be a point of improvement. Other places to improve include 1) initial screenings of inmates for suicidal ideation, 2) implementation of suicide-resistant housing cells and infrastructure, 3) comprehensive observation and treatment plans, and 4) increased lines of communication between inmates, care teams, and correctional staff (Hayes, 2010). 

These are all great steps to take, but I believe that we need to address the underlying conditions of prison culture and our society as a whole. Educating correctional staff on the different types of mental illness and their symptoms could work to decrease stigma and lead to better staff-inmate interactions. Additionally, it may be more helpful to implement policies that would prevent mentally ill people from ending up incarcerated solely because of the symptoms they present. As mentioned before, many of these inmates were people who would have been in a mental facility prior to the deinstitutionalization movement. More focus on increasing access to mental health support and services would be beneficial and may lessen the burden on the corrections and legal systems. If this is truly a mental health issue, we need to be treating it as such.


Hayes, L. (2010). National Study of Jail Suicide, 20 Years Later. National Institute of Corrections. https://nicic.gov/resources/nic-library/all-library-items/national-study-jail-suicide-20-years-later 

Kupers, T. (1999). The mentally ill behind bars. In Prison madness: The mental health crisis behind bars and what we must do about it. Jossey-Bass, Inc. 

Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2011). The role of corrections professionals in preventing suicide. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). https://www.insideprison.com/preventing-suicides-correctional-officers.pdf

Stop Glorifying Killers

By kquintanFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

Streaming services such as Netflix have been dramatizing multiple serial killers such as “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a series about Ted Bundy’s life. Although these docuseries are supposed to give us insight into what took place, most audience viewers flip the narrative and boast about how “attractive” Bundy was or how they “feel bad” for Dahmer. No one seems to be discussing their victims, survivors, or the families of the victims. The trauma, PTSD, and grief that they must be experiencing while their stories are being televised for everyone to see. They continuously have to experience these popular actors portraying the person who has caused them harm in their lives by winning prestigious awards, getting continuous praise, and developing a fan base for the perpetrator. 

Glorifying killers need to stop. Individuals such as Ryan Murphy need to take into consideration the people who were heavily affected by such tragedies. Murphy is best known for his writing, directing, and production of various popular television shows.  With a lot of popularity under his belt, he decided to take on a new project: Jeffrey Dahmer. After the release of the docuseries, those affected by Dahmer came forward to give their take on the series. Isabell Lindsey, sister of victim Errol, was interviewed by the Hollywood Reporter when the docuseries debuted. Lindsey stated, “It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then,” stating how traumatizing it was to have to relive it over again numerous times. She went further to state how Netflix or Murphy did not even reach out to her about the docuseries, “I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it. I could even understand it if they gave some of the money to the victims’ children. The victims have children and grandchildren. If the show benefited them in some way, it wouldn’t feel so harsh and careless. It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy. That’s just greed” (Strause, 2022). 

The casting of these killers is usually young and attractive. This captures a lot of young audiences’ attention. Such as Zac Efron who portrayed Ted Bundy and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer. Peters has worked with Murphy on different television shows such as American Horror Story. Peters has become known as a “heartthrob” and catches a lot of attention from young women. In season one of American Horror Story, Peters also played a character who committed a school shooting that was very similar to what happened during the Columbine Massacre. This episode was aired in 2011, just a year before the Sandy Hook massacre. Adam Lanza killed 26 people in 2012 and was known to be obsessed with Columbine. What was the purpose of truly airing this episode on television? Imagine being a victim of Columbine and seeing a dramatization of your tragedy being broadcasted for everyone to see? Audience’s will have their interest peak and will start to research the depiction of this. People already are idolizing Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold by dressing up as them for Halloween and essentially using them as inspiration to commit their own crimes. By doing so, the victims, survivors, and/or loved ones are not safe from the constant exploitation of what these killers have done to them and the rest of their lives. 

The idolization of killers has been easier than ever due to the rise in curiosity and psychology behind “why they do it.” Documentaries are solely based on the perpetrator and not the victims. It is devastating to see how the stories can capture a lot of sympathy for the murderer, but viewers forget that this is about the victims. Having their stories displayed on different screens in people’s living rooms only for the audience to sympathize with the killer must be devastating. They do not think about the pain and trauma that the victims, loved ones, and survivors must be going through seeing their stories be streamed for everyone to see. Their stories are an open book at the touch of our fingertips. Worst of all, they have to witness it all unfold again. Reliving the horrible acts bestowed onto them only for them to realize, no one is talking about them, they are talking about the murderers. 

Strause, J. (2022, September 28). Jeffrey Dahmer Victim’s family speaks out about the Netflix series. The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/jeffrey-dahmer-netflix-tv-show-victim-family-speaks-out-1235228196/

Suicidality of Mentally Ill Prisoners

By John HollandFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

Mental illness can manifest in many different ways such as prolonged depression, excessive fears, worries, anxieties, changes in eating and sleeping habits, social withdrawal, and strong feelings of anger (Rousseau, 2024). It could be argued that these behaviors might go unnoticed in institutions such as prisons, especially given there could be more overt behaviors staff are on the lookout for. While there are checks and balances such as psych evaluations and clinical support in some prisons in most cases those who are mentally ill go ignored within the system (Rousseau, 2024). While in an institution those with mental illnesses are far more likely than the general population to experience thoughts and desires of suicide (Rousseau, 2024). Even if the individual does not complete suicide within a prison, they face integrating back into the "real world" often times with worse mental health than they entered with (Rousseau, 2024). As someone with an undergraduate education in psychology I learned the importance of being mindful of these issues and I believe there is a large issue with unintentional trauma to those with mental illness within the criminal justice system. I do want to emphasize that I do not believe this is intentional behavior on the part of prison staff but human error from people who may not be trained or have not had practice spotting warning signs. Regardless, when these warning signs go unnoticed it causes issues as the individuals mental illness is worsened by interactions with staff or other inmates. These individuals are then released and, in the case of those without parole officers, are left to their own devices where they either commit suicide or continue deviant behavior because no one was able to intervene to assist with positive behaviors or coping skills. If I were to propose a way to intervene I would suggest introductory assessments and release assessments to each prisoner so in the best case they could be referred to a mental health service. I realize this is an "ideal world" suggestion but I believe it would be more effective than needing to flag warning signs along the way and possibly missing someone in need.



Rousseau, D., Forensic Behavior Analysis: Module 4 (2024)

Peer Support for Law Enforcement

By pearsonbFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

In this blog post, I am going to address two things. I am going to provide a further explanation of a topic that was covered in class and discuss strategies for self-care. I am a graduate student at Boston University, and I am currently enrolled in Forensic Behavior Analysis (MET CJ 725). I have learned many things from this course and one topic that we covered recently was approach to self-care. This topic hits close to home for me because I am an active police officer and I have been in law enforcement for the past seven years. This career path is challenging and rewarding and there is a lot of pressure and responsibility in this job. However, that is not what I am here to talk about, I am here to talk about the “forbidden” topic that not too many people cared to talk about or admit was true until recently, and that topic is trauma. More specifically, trauma that is experienced by police officers.

Trauma is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Now, police officers see the absolute worst that society has to offer and that is just the nature of the job. I have always said, “no one calls the cops to say hello or to invite them over because they are having a great day”. The reality is the police are called for emergencies or to handle abnormal situations that cannot be dealt with civilly. In the past, there was really no room for emotion or at least there was no opportunity for an officer to express their emotions and to admit that they were suffering mentally from what they witnessed or experienced. I mentioned this in class, but it was recently said to me during a training that “no longer are the days of someone saying, suck it up kid, this is what you signed up for”. Police officers are human beings too and to expect people in this profession to not experience some sort of trauma is not fair.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a big push for teams that are called “Peer support groups”. Basically, a peer support group is a team of law enforcement officers (peers) and mental health professionals that make themselves available to their co-workers and to other law enforcement officers who belong to different agencies. The people on this team are there to lend their support, empathy, and anything else that may be needed for the fellow brother or sister that is struggling mentally or has experienced some traumatic event. And because these people are “peers”, police officers tend to feel more comfortable seeking them out and opening up to them. In an article written on the International Chiefs of Police website, there is a quote that says “the biggest choosing of services for police officers is peer support. 3 out of 4 would rather go to peer support than any other kind of services out there” (www.theicap.org). This is huge, because it’s hard to get police officers to open up to anyone about anything because there is the stigma that they need to be tough, both physically and mentally. So the fact that they are willing to open up to their peers finally opens to door for more services and to get these people the help they deserve.

In addition, peer support is not a loosely put together idea that sounds good on paper but is not proven in the field. The COPS office in the Department of Justice has outlined a program that can help establish peer support teams, spanning from the biggest departments to the smaller, more rural departments. In the article “Peer Support for Officer Wellness”, it breaks down why it is important for a peer support team, and it also lays out a roadmap on how to successfully implement this kind of program in any department (www.cops.usdoj.gov).

In conclusion, police officers are people too who experience the same kind of emotions as everyone else. The job of a police officer is rewarding, but it can also be taxing both physically and mentally. Seeking out help is no longer frowned upon. In fact, it’s encouraged. Peer support teams are an important part of this profession, and it is a movement that needs even more recognition than it is currently receiving. It is okay to not be okay. The support is out there.






Self-awareness approaches towards healing of stress and trauma

By Paola LedesmaFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

Life, our existence is nothing more than just a mere condition where we have the rationality and capacity to function. As we go through life, and it’s experiences we get to go through a number of stages that are supposed to teach us everything that we need to know to survive and learn how to live and how to survive in a society that continuously changes and adapts itself to new standards of life, and 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 the particular events that are going to transpire in your life, and lead you through different pathways where you will encounter numerous obstacles, challenges, and experiences that will make or break you. Experiences that will activate your stress hormones and put them on a loop, sort of an overload, where you will have to know how to grasp and handle emotions, strong emotions that you will not understand clearly that can fog your mental state, as well as physical state. These experiences are led by an uncontrollable factor in everyday life, stress.

As we are all different and unique individuals, our individual experiences cannot be compared, and since that can’t happen, we don’t fully comprehend what another person goes through. Nevertheless, of the situational factor, stress is a universal factor that impacts us on a regular basis. But what is stress? The World Health Organization say that it’s “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 and ir-regulation that affects the mind, brain, and body.

So, how does stress affect us? When our body is subjected to an event of experience that causes extreme stress or tension our brain secretes stress chemicals and lights the neural circuitry on fire. It sends alerts to the hypothalamus, the one designed to maintain a balanced internal state, that subsequently sends sensory signals to the amygdala. The amygdala, the processor of emotion and behavior, 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, the regulator of involuntary physiologic processes, 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 that increases in force are for acceleration and decreases in force are for deceleration until to stoppage. And, these signals and responses once activates occur so quickly that the brain doesn’t even know that anything happened and that a response was emitted. Basically, as the events occur fast, the brain is not aware of the cascade of events, as it takes some time to process. So, the sympathetic nervous system stays on, continuously secreting stress hormones (for example, cortisol and adrenaline), thus impacting and aggravating the individual’s overall balance and well-being.

The physiological and psychological states of the individual continuously are being impacted to an overwhelming state, meaning that its effects on the mind, brain, and body reflect themselves, and stand in the way of completing even the simplest tasks, activities, and duties (ex. reading, studying, or working). In addition to, affecting relationships (ex. partners, family and friends), organ and system health (ex. musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, reproductive, and gastrointestinal systems), nervous system function (various levels of body aches and pain, vasodilation, compromised blood circulation, amongst more), use and abuse of substances (ex. cocaine, opioids, alcohol, and tobacco), anxiety, depression, and much more.

How to reduce levels of chronic long-term stress? Well, throughout time and various cultures different techniques have been established to aid in the debilitating symptoms of trauma induced stress. For example, relaxation responses are a combination of different approaches to light-up a state of relaxation through deep breathing techniques, focusing on calmness, tranquility and serenity, prayer, yoga, tai chi, and more. Another form of response is physical activity and/or movement therapy, for example, through stretching, pilaties, walking, running, swimming, aerobics, and more the body is able to reduce stress hormones and produce endorphins. In addition to, activities that make some individuals “feel alive”, such as dancing, singing, and social interactions with community members. All in all, in the battle to support the health and well-being of the individual, as well as, improve their self-esteem and self-worth.

A new type of exercise that has been found to be a link of connection between the mind, brain, body, and trauma is somatic awareness. It focuses on a bottoms-up approach towards trauma recovery, where instead of talking or exercising the emotions away this approach focuses on “how the body responds to the trauma, and how that in affects the brain” (American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, n.d.). Somatic therapy stretching involves intentional body movements during which one focuses their attention on the inner experience of stress, basically letting go those fight, flight or freeze responses. Because when we go through chronic long-term stress due to trauma the body disconnects from itself, and somatic therapy aids in finding calmness, grounding, balance, and it’s an overall great approach of self-care. So, through somatic awareness we get to pay attention to the different sensations and signals that our bodies send us, in addition to, movement, tensions, and breathing practices (Ucrós, G., 2023). It’s a form of understanding your personal experiences of trauma, and how your body responds to it. Practices to engage in one’s somatic awareness are mindful breathing that focus on the quality, depth, rhythm, location, and body movement; mindfulness of habitual movements where one selects a movement to explore and you notice how you feel inside while repeating the movement and connect to your emotions; body-mind centering where using movement, touch voice and mindfulness can re-pattern or re-educate the individual and their relationship with their body and emotions; and the Alexander Technique that through movement and stretching helps bring forwards the awareness of the impact of stress and trauma on the body, amongst more (Cohen, E., 2023).

The importance in assessing chronic long-term effects of stress and trauma is to prioritize the integration of the mind, brain, and body, and connect it with your spirit and ability of awareness; where therapeutic practices and life choices can be embraced in the journey to healing. There is no easy pathway towards health, balance, and resiliency; as there will always be obstacles, challenges, and two steps forward and one step back in the journey of recovery.



American Psychological Association. (March, 2023). Stress effects on the body. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body

Cohen, E. (August, 2023). An Introduction to Somatic Stretching. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/introduction-to-somatic-stretching#:~:text=The%20core%20aim%20of%20somatic,(muscle%20contraction%20and%20release).

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

Ucrós, G. (February, 2023). Somatic Awareness: Learning how to read your body’s story. Woven Together Trauma Therapy. https://woventraumatherapy.com/blog/somatic-awareness-reading-bodys-story

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). 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.

Painting Pain Away

By sienasFebruary 27th, 2024in CJ 725

Traumatic events alter every aspect of your life. Victims find it hard to discuss what happened to them and tend to keep things to themselves. How do we help someone heal in a unique and comfortable way? For younger victims, how do we get into their minds when they are too scared to speak?

Art Therapy is a way that victims of trauma can express themselves without words. By using art, they can express their emotions and tell their story. According to research, studies have suggested that some traumatic memories are stored nonverbally and may be retrieved through recollections of sensory, affective, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements (Campbell, 2016). 

An example of this working successfully is “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. In this book, art therapy is used to express feelings. In one chapter, a young child witnessed the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He drew the planes crashing, fire and people jumping. The boy added a trampoline at the bottom of the drawing, so next time they could jump onto that. By creating art, he was able to process the event and incorporate his thoughts on how people could be saved next time (in his mind). 

Another example from this book is asking a woman to draw a family portrait. Before drawing, she stated “must have had a good childhood”, but did not remember much. The drawing she made depicted a nightmare type situation. It showed a terrified child with a reference to sexual assault. By using art, this woman was able to unpack memories she had hidden. 

Using art to communicate and heal is a cost effective way of communicating feelings. It is also available to everyone as anyone can create art in their own way. I hope to see this continue to be used in not only therapy, but school settings as well. 


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

Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps The Score. Penguin Books.