Excerpt from ARTICLE that discussed the use of drawing with various age groups.
William Steele, MSW and Melvyn Raider, PhD
This article is reprinted from TLC’s Journal, TRAUMA AND LOSS: Research and Interventions, Volume 1, Number 2, 2001
This article reviews eleven years of field-testing, focused feedback sessions, anecdotal information and research of intervention programs designed to assist children, adolescents and parents exposed to trauma-inducing incidents. These efforts were conducted by the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children in schools and agencies across the country and resulted in a series of intervention programs which made up the Institutes Structured Sensory Interventions for Traumatized Children, Adolescents and Parents (SITCAP) Model. The use of drawing as a primary sensorimotor activity to facilitate the safe reexperiencing of the incident, the use of structured, trauma-focused questions addressing the major themes of trauma to facilitate the development of the trauma narrative (telling the story), and cognitive reframing statements designed to shift from victim thinking to survivor thinking were the primary intervention strategies used in each program. The SITCAP model has been instrumental in assisting victims seen in schools and agency settings find relief and resolutions of reactions to their trauma.
Cognitive psychology has demonstrated “that memories determine the interpretation of the present even when they are not conscious” (Mihaescu & Baettig, 1996, p. 239). Children experience trauma at a sensorimotor level then shift to a “perceptual (ionic) representation to a symbolic level”(Mihaescu & Baettig, 1996, p. 239). Later in adult life these memories are ordered linguistically. When a terrifying incident such as trauma is experienced and does not fit into a contextual memory, a new memory or dissociation is established (van der Kolk, McFarlane and Weisaeth, 1996). When that memory cannot be linked linguistically in a contextual framework, it remains at a symbolic level for which there are no words to describe it. In order to retrieve that memory so it can be encoded, given a language, and then integrated into consciousness it must be retrieved and externalized in its symbolic perceptual (iconic) form.
Drawing is a form of exposure therapy used to assist in constructing the traumatic narrative while at the same time reliving that memory. SITCAP interventions provide the individual an opportunity to create a visual (symbolic) representation of what the experience was like and to share it with the interventionist. Trauma-specific questions are used to help the individual develop his or her story; in other words, to give it a language. At this point cognitive reframing helps to reorder it cognitively, in a way that is now manageable.