Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MCM - MA Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Department

Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Krystal Leah Demaine

Abstract

Children who have are placed in the child welfare system have often been exposed to a multitude of stressors and traumatic experiences, including: exposure to domestic abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, in-utero substance abuse, and abandonment. In result, a child’s development and overall functioning may be severely impaired, to include an inability to regulate emotions and manage arousal, attentional difficulties, chronic elevation of cortisol levels, and low impulse control. Such children may also experience deficits in working memory, executive functioning, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning. Their ability to form healthy attachments may be impaired, and they are more likely to display anxious and insecure attachment patterns in their relationships. Their internal working model may begin to reflect the belief that the world is not safe, and people cannot be trusted and may thus demonstrate higher rates of aggression and fear in their interactions with others. Research has demonstrated that, in children who are exposed to complex trauma, the prevalence of clinically significant psychological distress and impairment often persists across the lifespan. In order to meet the complex treatment needs of this population, an integrative approach to treatment may prove beneficial. The literature review revealed that early intervention may decrease psychological distress later in life. While the evidence demonstrating the efficacy of attachment and trauma-informed art therapy is scarce, several articles discussed the healing potential of using the co-engagement and consistent attunement between therapist and client during art therapy sessions to increase relational security and to serve as a replacement attachment relationship for the child. Research has shown that, after engaging in trauma-informed treatment, many children experience a decrease in trauma symptoms. Childhood trauma typically occurs before or during a child’s verbal development. As a result, these memories are stored in nonverbal areas of brain. Art therapy, an inherently nonverbal treatment modality, can offer children a safe channel in which to access and process these experiences that are beyond words. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that children respond positively to utilizing creative arts expression and play to communicate about difficult feelings, thoughts, and experiences. This thesis provides a literature review and discussion of the aforementioned topics.

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