Book Review: Trauma and Expressive Arts Therapy: Brain, Body, & Imagination in the Healing Process.

Book Review
Book Review
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Malchiodi, C. A. (2020).

Trauma and expressive arts therapy:

Brain, body, & imagination in the healing process.

The Guilford Press. ISBN: 978-1-4625-4311-3. $40.00

In her book, Trauma and Expressive Arts Therapy: Brain, Body & Imagination in the Healing Process, Dr. Cathy Malchiodi has imagined a world of sensory and used a boots-on-the-ground approach that is unique and refreshing. It starts with sensory details and builds toward meaning and narrative. She draws from the work of scholars across many disciplines, including Eugene Gendlin (Gendlin, 1978), Peter Levine (1997), and Bessel van der Kolk’s ideas of body-based regulation of the autonomic nervous system and the philosophy on trauma as an overwhelming dysregulation of that system (2015).

The text examines the effectiveness of expressive art therapy in the treatment of traumatic stress. Malchiodi explores the idea of combining art, somatic work, and the polyvagal theory and how it applies to art and trauma. The techniques of grounding and relating to art allow both the practitioner and the patient to learn better ways of relating to art and relationships demonstrated through the attachment theory.

First, Dr. Malchiodi gives us an overview of the history of expressive art therapy and its integration with psychotherapy. She moves on to explain trauma-informed treatments. Next, she discusses how this approach can help develop and repair relationships, which helps explain the next section when discussing self-regulation and the nervous system. Next, she covers specific strategies for dealing with trauma, how individuals can identify stress in their bodies, and then strategies for unpacking the trauma narrative. Then, she covers certain kinds of art-based expression that also involve movement, imagery, and artistic expressions, and how expressive art therapy provides a sense of mastery and the ability to overcome distress.

The book references expressive art therapy, including Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy/ Poetry Therapy, Bibliotherapy, Play Therapy, and more. The focus on history and background helps the reader to have an overall understanding of the complex fields and theorists behind the book. People like Natalie Rogers, the daughter of Carl Rogers and an activist, whose concept of person-centered peace, saw that we all could have a ripple effect on the world. Rogers was a proponent of humanistic psychotherapy. Rogers is not focused on art as a product, but as a process.

When working with children, communities, or anyone who has faced dysregulation in their nervous system where they needed support, often people have found that talk alone will not work without some way of regulating the nervous system. This is because one wouldn’t talk until regulated fully. In this case, art activities make talk and verbal communication possible because they help in regulation during a crisis and allow someone to form a therapeutic relationship with a therapist after they can talk again.

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