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Creativity, Trauma, and the Brain

Has there ever been a time where your head and your heart were telling you to think, feel, or act in two different ways? This is a very common experience and one that I personally know quite well. It's almost as if there are two voices inside my head: one that is adventurous, encouraging me to play, explore, and create and one that is criticizing me, telling me that I need to be cautious, predictable, and in control.

Lucia Capacchione, PhD, is an art therapist who has done extensive research into this phenomenon, after noticing the healing powers of journaling with her non-dominant hand. Through using both hands to write and draw, she was able to achieve greater personal insight, self-awareness, and power over her life. Dr. Capacchione believes that "a person's non-dominant hand is a direct channel to inner potential." For me, that inner potential is the voice from my heart.

The two voices I described (the head and the heart) can easily be traced back to the two hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere controls the right side of our bodies and is responsible for logic, reasoning, and analytic thought. The right hemisphere controls the left side of our bodies and is responsible for creativity, intuition, and artistic expression.

Brain hemispheres

Many traditional counseling methods encourage people to talk about their experiences in therapy and approach thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors from a place of logic and reasoning to identify and change any unhelpful patterns. These activities are based in the left hemisphere of the brain, where language, speech, writing, and analytic thought are controlled. While this type of therapy can be very beneficial for many people, I have found that the best outcomes happen when both sides of the brain are activated in the counseling process.

This is because trauma is stored without words. It is stored as images and body sensations, which are controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain. When someone experiences a traumatic event, the traumatic memory can get stuck in the right hemisphere. As a result, it can be very challenging for a trauma survivor to verbally describe an experience that they don't have words for. For some, this can be especially frustrating in a counseling relationship and can leave people feeling confused, out of control, and stagnant in the therapy process.

But, there is another way. By engaging in art, music, movement, and other creative processes in therapy, clients are activating the right hemisphere of the brain, where their trauma lives. They are able to express and tell their stories in a way that comes naturally and is encouraged by human anatomy and physiology. In addition, it is easier for people to talk about a piece of art or music than it is to talk directly about a traumatic experience.

For this reason, my clients are encouraged to express themselves using art materials and share whatever they are comfortable sharing about their artwork. This allows clients to activate both sides of their brain (creativity and language), which creates new pathways between the two hemispheres and integrates the trauma memory on both sides of the brain. As a result, clients no longer feel stuck in that trauma memory and are able to process it and move forward from the traumatic experience like they would with any other memory.

For Dr. Capacchione, writing and drawing with her non-dominant hand was the most direct way to access the right hemisphere of her brain. She has published many books and led workshops, retreats, and groups to teach others about the power of their non-dominant hands. Many of her clients have been able to heal medical conditions, work through trauma and stress, and achieve greater self-awareness through utilizing the creative journal.

I encourage you to get creative as well! Art, music, movement, and creative journaling are great places to start. If you're interested in using art to explore and recover from your own trauma history, please feel free to contact me to schedule your first session.

To learn more about Dr. Capacchione and the Creative Journal Method, click here.

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