Art long has been recognized for its potential therapeutic benefits, particularly in regards to overcoming trauma and facilitating the healing process. Experience and observation show that art can help us express emotions and process difficult experiences safely and creatively. Through the use of visual representation, individuals express their emotions in a safe and nonthreatening outlet, processing and releasing difficult experiences while healing, growing, and gaining deeper understanding of their emotions.

Sacred art, in particular, provides a person a sense of comfort and connection to something greater than themself, which is helpful when someone is dealing with trauma. Someone who creates art that reflects their faith or depicts religious themes finds hope and meaning amid difficult circumstances. Sacred art also provides an opportunity for a person to experience spiritual reflection and contemplation. For example, people who turn to sacred art such as paintings of biblical stories may be encouraged to reflect on the deeper meanings and messages of their faith. Another positive to sacred art for those in the process of recovery is that purpose and meaning are found within it. People attempting to overcome trauma need to focus their minds and hearts on something bigger than themselves so that they do not become lost in otherwise difficult situations. Creating art that reflects faith or has a spiritual theme provides a sense of purpose and meaning because it is centered around something bigger than any individual or circumstance.

Those who create art express their emotions in a way that words may not be able to capture. The feelings that accompany trauma or other difficult experiences can be challenging to put into words because such an expression requires an understanding that we just may not yet have.  In these cases, we are still working through the process of understanding and processing those feelings. Even when we do have a good understanding of our emotions, finding the right words to express them can be difficult because we are not used to talking about our feelings or because we do not have the vocabulary to describe them. The intense sensation brought about by the emotions, especially when we are dealing with complex or difficult feelings such as grief, anger, or fear, tends to block words from releasing.

Art, on the other hand, allows us to communicate our emotions through visual representation, which can be powerful when it comes to processing complex or difficult feelings. Humans possess a visual understanding or perception that can be outside the realm of logic or reason. Referred to as intuition, this skill is defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” Intuition is a complex and multifaceted concept thought to be related to the unconscious mind and our ability to process information and make decisions based on incomplete or ambiguous information. When it comes to visual understanding or perception, intuition plays a role in our ability to understand and interpret visual information in ways that are not based on logical reasoning. We may, for example, have an intuitive sense of how certain colors or shapes make us feel, or we may be able to understand the meaning of an image or symbol without consciously analyzing it.

Intuition is an important aspect of human perception and understanding, and it plays a significant role in our ability to process and make sense of visual information. We find it easier to express thoughts and feelings via visual expression rather than through words because:

  • Visual expression is personal and authentic. When we use art to express our thoughts and feelings, we create something uniquely our own.
  • Visual expression is less intimidating. For some people, the act of putting their thoughts and feelings into words is intimidating or overwhelming. Images, however, feel more natural to some.
  • Visual expression is more flexible. Art allows for a greater degree of flexibility and creativity when it comes to expressing thoughts and feelings. This is helpful when it someone is dealing with emotions that are difficult to put into words or trying to convey complex ideas.

In addition to its expressive capabilities, art encourages mindfulness and being present in the moment. When we are actively engaged in the creative process, we tend to focus solely on the task at hand, which can bring a sense of peace and clarity to our minds. This is useful when it comes to dealing with traumatic experiences, because we can take a break from the constant stream of thoughts and emotions that may be overwhelming us. The act of creating art requires us to be present, and thus we cultivate a sense of mindfulness and focus is soothing and healing.

The act of creating art also is therapeutic in and of itself. When we create art, we channel our energy and emotions into something productive and meaningful; within the bounds of traumatic experience, this means we take control of our experiences and make something positive out of a difficult circumstance. Engaging in the creative process and creating something that reflects our own unique perspective and values promotes a sense of meaning and purpose that helps the healing process occur and pushes us to focus our energy and attention on something positive. Quiet times of contemplation encourage safe processing of these types of experiences as well as consideration of the ways those who similar experiences handled their situations, in the case of sacred art. 

Art is a powerful tool in the process of healing from trauma and finding hope and meaning in difficult circumstances. Creating art encourages us to express our thoughts and emotions in a way that words may not be able to capture, and it promotes mindfulness and staying present in the moment. Sacred art, especially, offers a meaningful way for those attempting to overcome trauma to connect with the divine and find hope in something greater than themselves. Those in the process of recovery may find that if they create art they will heal more fully than they would have otherwise.