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Using creativity to work through grief and trauma

Written by Alina Ivan

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    Aug 25, 2022, 4 min read

    While therapy can be hugely beneficial, it's not the only way in which you can support your mental health.Creativity provides an outlet for both trauma and grief – people can process how they feel without necessarily having to put those feelings into words.

    Whether you’re interested in exploring creativity alone or with the support of a therapist, here’s everything you need to know.

    What is trauma?

    Trauma is an emotional response to a traumatic experience. It can be caused by:

    • Experiencing physical or psychological harm
    • Seeing someone else being harmed
    • A one-off or an ongoing event

    Trauma can persist long after the traumatic experience. It can present as:

    • Numbness and detachment
    • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Anger and denial
    • Mood changes

    What is grief?

    Grief is an emotional response to loss. We most commonly experience grief following the death of someone we love.

    People who are grieving may experience:

    • Sadness or depression
    • Shock and denial
    • Numbness
    • Panic
    • Anger

    Grief is something we all experience. But it affects everyone differently. For some, feelings associated with grief become more manageable with time. For others, grief affects their mental health and gets worse rather than better.

    Can creativity help you to work through grief and trauma?

    Trauma and grief can seriously affect your mental health and wellbeing. It’s important to find ways to process the way you’re feeling. That’s where creativity can help.

    Studies show that creativity can be used to support people experiencing grief, trauma and other mental health problems. And there are lots of people out there who have harnessed the power of creativity to feel better.

    Creativity and grief

    For writer Isabel Cohen, writing helped her to channel the pain and provided healing following the death of her mother. Creativity became a way to take control of her grief and an opportunity for self-care.

    Rachel Switlick has been a dancer since she was two years old. She uses dance to cope with big life events and choreographed very personal pieces following the death of her grandfather and, subsequently, the death of her uncle.

    Creativity and trauma

    London artist, The Fandangoe Kid (Annie Nicholson), lost a number of close family members in a tragic accident when she was young. She spent the subsequent years processing this trauma through art. She recently created a documentary video exploring dance, rituals and the taboos of both death and grief.

    “I was always interested in making work around intimacy, the human condition and how we relate to each other, that has always been a big part of my work,” she mentioned in an interview for the Creative Review. “But then this horrifying loss derailed everything. Actually, I couldn’t make work at all publicly. I couldn’t show anything. I was filling sketchbooks at home, but I needed to keep my head above water for a couple of years.”

    ​​Renowned artist, Tracey Emin, has long been using art to help her overcome trauma she experienced in her youth. My Bed (1998) is one of her most famous works – created to resemble the bed Emin spent four days in while suffering from suicidal depression. She says that artistic expression helped her to survive and move beyond her past experiences.

    Arts and creative therapies

    If you already enjoy creative pursuits – such as writing, painting or playing a musical instrument – you may sooner or later turn to these activities as a way to soothe from grief and trauma.

    But even if artistic expression isn’t already part of your life, finding new ways to be creative can help to improve your wellbeing.

    You don’t need to have any particular artistic ability. And there’s no right or wrong way to express yourself.

    If you’re unsure where to start it may be useful to look for formal creative therapy sessions rather than taking a self-led approach. That way, experienced creative therapists can guide you to explore your creativity and express your emotions in new ways.

    So what creative therapies can you choose from?

    Drama therapy

    A drama therapist will guide participants through a range of activities. That might include writing and reading scripts, role-playing, drama games or improvisation.

    As well as enjoying the creative experience, participants get to take on different emotional states, expressing both difficult and positive emotions. Learn more

    Music therapy

    You don’t need to play an instrument to benefit from music therapy. Sessions usually involve easy-to-use instruments or the voices of participants. Learn more

    Art therapy

    In a visual art therapy session, you might use paint, pens, pencils, chalk, clay, photography or collage to express your feelings and create something new. Your artwork will also provide a basis for conversation and exploration. Learn more

    Dance therapy

    Also known as dance movement therapy, this creative therapy can help people to feel more connected to their body and their surroundings. It can help them to express how they feel through movement rather than with words. Sessions may also include verbal reflection.

    Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader mental health care: join us today.

    Not sure where to start?

    We offer a free 15 minute consultation so that we can guide you to the most relevant professionals