International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Creative Arts Therapies

Posted 1 April 1996 in StressPoints by David Read Johnson, PhD

Empirical research on creative approaches to PTSD treatment is sparse, but sorely needed. Though many clinicians endorse the importance of artwork, role playing and creative expression in the assessment and treatment of the disorder, very little empirical evidence exists to support these claims.

A recent pilot study published in the journal Art Therapy in December 1995 by Charles Morgan and David Johnson at the National Center for PTSD in West Haven, Conn., provides an example of one model for the empirical study of treatment for nightmares. The authors had two veterans with PTSD alternate each week between two conditions: drawing a picture of, or writing in a journal about, their nightmares each morning over the course of 12 weeks. Both veterans reported significant decreases in the frequency and intensity of their nightmares during the art condition, and increase during the journaling condition. The authors suggest that "the isomorphism between visual imagery (in drawings) and the visual modality of nightmares may provide a more effective means of transforming and integrating the traumatic material into normal cognitive schemas."

If you would like to join the ISTSS Creative Art Therapies Interest Area Group, simply write or fax chairperson David Read Johnson, Ph.D., c/o ISTSS headquarters. Ideas for activities, research projects and presentations at the national conference are welcome.