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Expressive Arts & Therapies for Survivors, Children, and Families


A Look Inside Lotus:

Expressive Arts & Therapy Techniques

Every Client is Unique

Lotus therapists know that every survivor, child, and family is unique, and so is every therapy session.

Expressive arts and play therapies foster learning and self-expression. They build on the natural way that people learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them. While the techniques Lotus uses are fun, they are also evidence-based and intentional.

Lotus therapists often use the term co-regulation when supporting survivors, children, and families.

Co-regulation is when two nervous systems (brains and bodies) bring each other to the same level of activity or arousal.

For example, if a parent is feeling stressed out, you might see a child start to act stressed out and become hyper or cranky, even when they don’t know why the parent is stressed.

Small instruments are great co-regulation tools for listening and repeating patterns.

Survivors, children, and families each have their own way of co-regulating. Oftentimes, Lotus therapists facilitate a session by allowing a survivor, child, or family to choose which expressive arts and play therapies they are drawn to.

Other times, therapists may guide a survivor, child, or family to a specific activity because avoidance can be a big part of trauma. Structured activities may help a survivor, child, or family to sit with their feelings. 

Create A Dream World

The sand tray is a great activity for children or survivors who are imaginative, or who may have trouble putting words to their experiences. Processing trauma by creating scenery in the sand tray can help children and survivors express their experiences in a safe environment. 

“I usually start with asking children to create their dream world in the sand tray.”

– Lauren Lotus CAC Therapist

For example, If a child is struggling with anger and they are playing in the sand box, they may have two figurines fighting. The therapist can ask,

“Why are they fighting? What made them so angry?”

In this example, a child can use tools and language that they understand to work towards healing from trauma.

Facing Fears & Fighting ‘Worry Monsters”

Using puppets is a great way for children to face their fears and worries. They can pick out a puppet that describes their worry or fear. At Lotus, we call these “worry monsters.” Then, children can suit up with a sword and shield and fight their worry. Fighting the worry monster empowers young children to face their fears in real life. They can practice facing their worries and saying things like,

“I’m not scared, I’m brave!”

Zipper puppets let children know that their secrets are safe. Instead of talking to the therapist, they can share their feelings or experiences with the puppet. Then, the therapist can retrieve the puppet when the child feels ready to talk. 

Paint Your Feelings: Inside & Out

Painting a mask can be a way for children and survivors to identify and regulate their emotions. The therapist may say, “paint how you want people to think you feel on the outside and how you actually feel on the inside.”

Most of us have masked our feelings at one point or another. Some days, we may want the people around us to think we are happy and sunny, but on the inside, we may feel like a rainy day.

Participating in an art therapy activity like painting a mask gives survivors, children, and families a chance to demonstrate their feelings without words. It can be used to help them feel more relaxed and open to healing.

Holding Big Emotions

Learning to process emotions is difficult. Container poses help survivors, children, and families to sit with their emotions without fear or anxiety. These poses help our bodies to feel safe and empowered to hold all of our emotions—even the big ones.

“Sometimes we are afraid of stepping into conversation about things that can create big emotions or feel too big to handle. Container poses are all about reconnecting with your body’s ability to contain emotions.”

– Beth, Lotus SVRC Therapist

Practicing different container poses increases the ability to sit with feelings without judging or labeling them. These poses teach survivors, children, and families how to welcome emotions, even negative emotions, and express love and compassion for their feelings. 

Safe Touch & Teamwork

Making art together is a great way to practice safe touch and co-regulation between family members. Family members can work together to pick paint colors and paint each other’s hand.

This technique is a bonding experience that allows family members to connect with one another. It helps to break down communication barriers through safe, gentle touch and physical closeness.

After the family members have painted their hands and put them to paper, they can write strengths and positive things about each other as part of their design. This helps families build protective factors, like resilience and communication.

Therapists Have Big Toolboxes!

At Lotus, we provide a holistic approach to healing and wellness. The therapeutic techniques mentioned here, and many more, address the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of an individual’s experience.

In the Expressive Arts Center, therapy techniques are designed to help survivors, children, and families build resources, change behaviors, and use the body as a tool for recovery. 

To learn more about therapy services for survivors, children, and families, visit our Children’s Advocacy Center and Sexual Violence Resource Center pages.

Sarah is a community impact intern at Lotus. She is a senior at Murray State studying organizational communication and nonprofit leadership and is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector one day.

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