The Use of Art Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy To Address Trauma Symptoms in Hospitalized Children

The experience of hospitalization can be a frightening, painful, and potentially traumatic experience for a child. When a child undergoes a hospitalization experience, there are many factors involved in that could be potentially traumatizing. Because of their limited verbal capacity, or because of the challenging content, it may be difficult for the child to accurately describe or verbalize these traumas to caregivers. Art therapy is a treatment modality that can potentially be helpful in working with hospitalized children. A review of the available literature on the use of art therapy with hospitalized children suggests two primary advantages of this modality. The first advantage is that art therapy can be used as a brief intervention, requiring as little as one session. The second advantage is that art therapy has been shown to help individuals recover from traumatic experiences through its ability to give form and meaning to thoughts and feelings. Art making can be a particularly effective intervention for reducing trauma-related problems in hospitalized children because it is both a familiar and accessible activity. It also provides an alternate path to accessing traumatic memories (as compared to standard talk therapy).

The primary difficulty in researching the validity of art therapy as a trauma intervention for hospitalized children is the lack of empirical, efficacy-based studies available on this subject. In order to address this issue, the writer also looked at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to see how it might intersect with art therapy when working with children in the hospital. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was chosen as a treatment modality because it is currently the only empirically verified, evidence-based practice shown to have a measured improvement in trauma symptoms with children.

Anneliese Hanson
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