By: Joanna Taubeneck
March is a big month when it comes to mental health awareness. March is Social Work Month and Self-harm Awareness Month, and March also holds National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, Sleep Awareness Week, World Bipolar Day, Trans Day of Visibility, Zero Discrimination Day, and the list continues. There’s a lot to pay attention to this month, which left me feeling overwhelmed as I considered what to write about. Ultimately, I decided on the intersection of two topics that have impacted my specific identity: women’s history and creative arts therapies. I identify as both a woman and as a creative arts therapist, and March is both Women’s History Month as well as home to Creative Arts Therapies Week.
The National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, Inc. describes creative arts therapists (art therapists, dance/movement therapists, drama therapists, music therapists, and poetry therapists) as “human service professionals who use arts-based interventions and creative processes for the purpose of ameliorating disability and illness and optimizing health and wellness. Treatment outcomes include, for example, improving communication and expression, and increasing physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social functioning.”
As a dance/movement therapist, I am grateful to work with all identities, but most of my clients are and have been female-identified individuals. I specialize in supporting folks in their healing from trauma, and much of my time has been spent supporting women who have experienced abuse. It feels important to note that all genders can experience abuse, but those who identify as women suffer through it at a truly alarming rate: 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence (physical and/or sexual) in their lifetime.
For generations, women have been silenced and women’s bodies have been objectified. As a result, it is quite common for women to struggle with speaking about their relationship to their bodies and what their bodies have been through. This struggle is a physiological one at its core; Broca’s area of the brain (the region of the brain that controls speech production) shuts down during traumatic moments and also during flashbacks, resulting in wordlessness. In fact, brain scans depict that traumatized brains look very similar to the brains of those who have had a stroke (van der Kolk, 2014). So, what does this mean for women who have endured violence? Not only is it emotionally challenging for individuals to talk about the abuse they’ve suffered, but often it’s not even fully possible as the nervous system’s intense dysregulation results in an inability to articulate one’s inner experience. Verbal processing in therapy is actually not the most healing for these women, to which I can attest from witnessing this in sessions with clients and from my own personal experience as an assault survivor.
Creative arts therapies offer clients the space to express their thoughts, feelings, memories, and physical sensations intuitively and cathartically. A client might draw or paint the emotion that they’re noticing bubble up in session, or they might move it with their bodies or make music about it. These alternative ways of communicating can allow a person’s traumatic experience that seems—and perhaps literally is—unspeakable, to suddenly become externalized and released in a therapeutic way. A female-identified individual who has disconnected from the wisdom and abundance of her body due to the experiences of abuse, violation, shame, objectification, and lack of safety is provided with options and choice. She can of course choose to talk about it, and she can choose to move about it, write about it, sing about it, or make art about it.
Interested in healing through creative arts therapies? Joanna offers individual therapy sessions and intensive therapy retreats. Email her at email@example.com to learn more!
Van der Kolk, Bessel. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.