How Creative Expression is Revolutionizing Kids’ Recovery from Trauma and Adversity

What if you could know more about yourself just using markers and paper?
What if a song could help you to calm down your body when you’re stressed?
What if you could find more control by writing a poem?
All these things are possible.

Article was written by, Lacie Braun, LMHC.

Markers and paper, songs, poetry, all share something. They are tools in a new form of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) known as creative expression.

Creative expression, or process focused creativity that expresses emotions, including art-making, movement, music, and poetry, is an innovative approach being rapidly adopted in building kids’ coping skills.

In the US alone, 35 million kids experience some form of a traumatic event before their 18th birthday. While most will be able to recover from these distressing experiences, many will not and will suffer life-long impacts such as disrupted neurodevelopment, 3 times higher risk of depression, 20 years lower life expectancy, and social, emotional and cognitive impairments.

Thankfully, as our understanding of mental health grows, successful approaches to healing are being recognized and are now available to help in any person’s (young or old) journey to wholeness.

Creative expression is an effective practice because of its integrative approach to healing. It uses more than the traditional cognitive behavioral therapy method and incorporates the brain and body for emotion processing. This allows for a greater depth of self-discovery and expression, which leads to stronger self-awareness, personal resilience, and relationship skills.

Here are some exciting benefits of creative expression:

  • It provides a non-threatening way to access, identify, and explore complex emotions
  • It reduces physiological symptoms of stress
  • It helps kids to express and externalize traumatic events
  • It teaches kids how to self-regulate
  • It increases self-awareness and social awareness
  • It provides opportunities for kids to feel self-sufficient and in control

Beyond these therapeutic benefits, creative expression is something everyone can benefit from as it fosters play and imagination, which lead to increased problem-solving and motor skills and deeper relationships.

Bringing creative expression activities into a classroom or inside a hospital waiting room can promote kids’ sense of wellbeing, increase their ability to connect, and provide moments of carefree play – something everyone can use from time to time.

So, bring some markers and paper with you next time you’re working with kids and allow the power of creativity to turn pain into possibility.

About the Author.
Lacie Braun is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist in Seattle, WA who serves as a Curriculum and Training Development Consultant with Art with Heart. Find out more at
Cathy Malchiodi PhD., 2012, Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy: Tapping the arts’ powers as trauma intervention,
Swedish Hospital, December 02, 2016, Creative expression programs,
Renee Fabian, Healthline, Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD: Coloring has especially become instrumental as I recover from PTSD,
Asa Don Brown, 2012, Psychological Benefits of Art Therapy,

LIT: A Joyful celebration of Healing Through Art

Written by Liz Reed Hawke, originally posted on June 27th, 2018 on Solid Ground

On the first anniversary of a tragic event that rocked the Sand Point Housing (SPH) campus and our entire community, a bright light shone to honor the life of mother and SPH resident Charleena Lyles. Youth residents proudly shared artwork through a resident-led art project that culminated in a gallery show titled “LIT” on Monday, June 18 at Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange (SPACE) in Magnuson Park.

Shortly after Charleena Lyles’ death in 2017,  Art with Heart reached out to the SPH community to offer resources. At that time, the community wasn’t ready to bring in outside organizations and needed space to process and heal on their own. But this year, resident Lhorna Murray and her friend Liza Rankin – both artists and SPACE Gallery Board members – felt they were ready.

“I like art because it helps you calm down, and it helps you think about things, and it helps your feelings.” – Kamarie, youth artist

Lhorna wrote a proposal to Solid Ground leadership outlining her vision for a collaboration between Solid Ground, SPACE, Art with Heart, and three separate PTAs. She emphasizes the powerful role SPH residents can play in creating community events like this one, stating that residents appreciate Solid Ground empowering and supporting them to create ideas for their community and turn them into reality. This is exactly what happened with LIT, and it was a truly magical event.

The exhibition was the culmination of four sessions with Art with Heart, a local nonprofit that creates therapeutic workbooks for kids and corresponding curricula for adults. Art with Heart’s Creative Learning Specialist, Sera Rogers, says the participants wanted to “create a gallery event where the community could share their personal stories of resilience through art. They wanted to create room for kids to process and share any feelings that may have come up from that experience or other traumas.”

Sera describes the Art with Heart process: “Every young person is different; some kids connect with specific art media right away, while others take time to discover what feels good to them. Together, we create group guidelines to set the scene for the type of environment kids want to foster among themselves in terms of setting up safe space throughout the program. When kids create and agree on their own rules – like ‘We can make whatever we want!’ and ‘Everyone makes good art!’ – it gives participants a sense of pride and ownership in the work they make, and continues to create a safe place to engage in the creative expression process.”

The kids have ownership over their work and whatever the art looks like, and decided themselves whether or not to share their art in the LIT exhibition. A few of the young artists sold some pieces at the exhibition, and they got to set the prices. Some were brave enough to speak to the guests during the event, and Lhorna introduced them. One boy named Deng says, “Art is a tool for when you want to have fun, and it’s fun to do.”

Lhorna introduced another artist, Kamarie, with the following: “He loves art. I mean I don’t even think he cared about the class, he just wanted to go off and do the art; we were a distraction.” Kamarie explains, “I like art because it helps you calm down, and it helps you think about things, and it helps your feelings.”

Tyrece, Kamarie’s older brother, says, “So I think why you should do artwork [is] because if you’re really mad, there’s something you could do – paint. And also, it sort of calms you down, and it’s really good for your energy.”

Solid Ground Board member Sunil Sanghani also spoke to Kamarie about his work, describing the artist as “pretty insightful.” Kamarie told Sunil, “When I’m happy, I use light colors, and when I’m mad, I use dark colors.” Sunil asked Kamarie to describe one thing he hopes to express through his art. “Feelings – I would like to change the way people see things.”

Sunil says that LIT was filled with “great energy. It was a very affirming event that gave the kids a platform to share their joys and aspirations – a celebration where they could express themselves in a meaningful way.” To Sunil, the evening “emphasized a need for compassion, community and a more equitable future for the younger generation – for kids who have hope, aspirations and are looking for support.”

A Supertool to Help Kids Process and Manage Their Emotions

“Creativity is increasingly being validated as a potent mind-body approach as well as a cost-effective intervention to address a variety of challenges throughout the lifespan”   – Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D. 

What are Art with Heart Resources?

Art with Heart resources are low-cost interventions that empower kids to manage difficult experiences through creative expression. The books and activities show students how to use art as a strategy for identifying, processing and regulating their emotions in a safe way. This is how:

“…I have trouble expressing my emotions in a non-harmful way, so these art projects are a good way to express these emotions.” – 16-year-old

  1. Identifying and Processing Emotions They give kids time and space to learn about, recognize, name and reflect on their emotions and provide them with a way to process their emotional experiences through art. They provide a means for stopping and thinking about emotions, and for learning from others’ by sharing and listening.
  2. Expressing Emotions They equip kids with strategies for safely expressing and talking about emotions.
  3. Managing Emotions They teach and model creative expression as a strategy for managing emotions by giving kids a means to 1) take a break from the intense emotions, 2) listen and reflect on how others manage strong feelings, and 3) use art as a coping strategy to safely express and release intense emotions.

Do Art with Heart Resources Foster Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

YES! Art with Heart books and resources are creative expression tools that can cultivate social and emotional development. The resources strengthen student capacity to identify, express and manage emotions through creative expression, by facilitating art as a means for processing and digging deeper into emotions. Whether implemented alone with a small group of students or in combination with a comprehensive, universal social skills program like Second Step, Art with Heart resources provide a healthy, safe way for students to develop their self-awareness and self-management competencies for success in school and life.

Creativity and the Arts Promote Health and Well Being

Creativity is a wellness practice, and creative expression can have many benefits for kids. Active participation in art activities is one of the best ways of achieving those benefits (Bolwerk et. al, 2014). Creativity is highly connected to emotions. Drawing can improve moods, reduce stress, and help to regulate emotions by serving as a distractor (Drake & Winner, 2012; Stuckey & Nobel, 2010). People who report feeling happy and active are more likely to be doing something creative (Silvia et. al, 2014). Bottom line: Art activities can foster happy kids and healthy, positive classrooms.

Article was written by, Kim Gulbrandson, Ph.D.


Bolwerk A, Mack-Andrick J, Lang FR, Dörfler A, Maihöfner C (2014) How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101035. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101035.

Drake, J.E. & Winner, E. (2012). How children use drawing to regulate their emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 27, 3, 512-520, DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2012.720567

Silvia, P.J., Beaty, R.E., Nusbaum, E.C., Eddington, K.M., Levin-Aspensen, H., & Kwapil T.R. (2014). Everyday creativity in daily life: An experience-sampling study of “little c” creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8, 2, 183-188.

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263.

The introductory quote was used for grabbing reader attention. It is not meant to be a reference to a research study or to cite what works. The quote is from an article in Psychology Today, called Creativity as a Wellness Practice.