Media coverage of the growing disaster in Myanmar reminds me that there will soon be 1000's of child victims of this disaster, each needing food, shelter, and other basic needs to simply survive. They will also eventually need mental health intervention that is meaningful and addresses both the short and long term affects of trauma. Imagining how those children have been irrevocably changed by the current disaster additionally reminds me of the innumerable children I have worked with as an art therapist and how their young lives were altered by hurricanes, tornados, and the like.
Children relive their traumas not only in their minds, but also through their actions. In part, their actions are often attempts to regain mastery over events that have disrupted
Non-verbal modalities such as drawing are effective because of the impact that trauma often has on language. Language, a function of declarative memory, is generally not readily accessible to trauma survivors of any age after a traumatic event. In particular, Broca’s area, a section of the brain that controls language is affected, making it difficult to relate the trauma narrative. In fact, when a trauma survivor attempts to speak, PET scans actually show that Broca’s area tends to shut down. Meanwhile, other parts of the brain, including the limbic system, are in overdrive, particularly in individuals with posttraumatic stress symptoms.
The simplicity of children’s art and play as responses to trauma has been understated as to their importance in trauma recovery. And does all this just apply to children? No, I don’t think so. The returning military from Iraq, students exposed to a random sniper’s fire, and all those who survive any disaster have the potential to benefit from creative expression, post-trauma. We all encode psychological trauma in a sensory way and we all have the possibility to use our senses in the recovery process.