Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy



Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy is a specific approach to traumatic stress developed by Dr. Cathy Malchiodi that integrates "brain-wise" arts-based interventions and embodied awareness concepts to support trauma reparation and recovery. Expressive arts therapy [the combined use of art, music/sound, dance/movement, enactment/improvisation, storytelling/narrative, play, and imagination] is the key psychotherapeutic strategy when addressing traumatic stress. It also integrates current best practices in trauma-informed care with what is known about how the expressive arts and play assist in trauma reparation and integration. 

In order to become qualified to practice Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy, please see our Certificate Programs and EXAT and EXA-CE designations that demonstrate competency in applying Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy in psychotherapy and counseling, education, and coaching on this website.

The Seven Core Concepts of Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy [from © 2020 C. Malchiodi Trauma and Expressive Arts Therapy: Brain, Body, and Imagination in the Healing Process]:

1. Neurodevelopment and neurobiology inform the application of expressive arts therapy to trauma-informed intervention. As previously stated, trauma is not just a psychological experience; it is also mind-body experience. The role of neurodevelopment and neurobiology are central to using the expressive arts to address trauma reactions and to assist individuals in reconnecting implicit (sensory) and explicit (declarative) memories of trauma. In particular, neurodevelopment provides a framework for determining how to apply expressive arts interventions to various goals of treatment, including when and how to support self-regulation and self-efficacy, positive attachment, and resilience-building. 

2. Expressive arts therapy is focused on supporting self-regulation and co-regulation. Over-activation, hyperarousal, general anxiety are common manifestations of not only posttraumatic stress, but also other trauma-related challenges. Expressive arts interventions are used to not only support individuals’ own internal resources, but also provide various creative, action-oriented approaches to self-regulation and co-regulation when applied within groups.

3. Expressive arts therapy is used to help identify and ameliorate the body’s experience of distress. Individuals who are experiencing trauma-related reactions typically experience the impact of these reactions not only in altered thinking, but also various somatic experiences. Because the expressive arts are “embodied” experiences, they are helpful in identifying and repairing the body’s responses to trauma.  In particular, key trauma-informed practices are: using expressive arts to support individuals’ bodies as resources and normalizing the body’s reactions to trauma as adaptive coping rather than pathology, 

4. Expressive arts therapy is used to establish and support a sense of safety, positive attachment and prosocial relationships. Reconnecting with a sense of safety is central to trauma-informed practice. In particular, expressive arts approaches are used to help individuals recover a sense of well-being internally and in relationships with others. This also includes providing various opportunities for the individual to engage in creative experimentation that integrates experiences of unconditional appreciation, guidance, and support, experiences found in families with secure attachment relationships. When applied as group interventions, expressive arts support prosocial interactions and connect individuals through community.

5. Expressive arts therapy is used to support strengths and enhance resilience. Trauma-informed practice encourages helping professionals to see all individuals as capable of growth and reparation. It also holds the concept of resiliency as central to recovery. Expressive arts interventions are life-affirming and honor individuals’ capacity for resilience and personal strength by encouraging mastery with a goal of moving individuals’ self-perceptions from victim to survivor to “thriver”.

6. Expressive arts therapy respects the individual’s preferences for self-expression, particularly of trauma narratives. Trauma-informed practice emphasizes the role of individuals in their own treatment and their preferences for participation; these preferences are determined by culture, previous experiences, worldviews, values, and other dynamics. Arts-based approaches offer a variety of ways for expressing “what happened” dependent on the individual’s comfort level with self-expression. These therapies also respect the use of personal metaphors and symbols that allow individuals to control how they communicate sensitive experiences.

7. Expressive arts therapy provides meaning-making experiences and ways to imagine new narratives, post-trauma. As previously stated, expressive arts in particular allow individuals to convey what is often unspeakable. They also allow survivors to explore, restructure, reframe and re-story trauma and loss through non-verbal, asset-driven, participatory and self-empowering ways.

The Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute is dedicated to professional education and distance learning based on this model of Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy.

Video Presentation

Seven Principles of Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy

Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Level One Online Training

Complete Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Level One Certificate Entirely Online

Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Level One can be completed through a three-day live course, online or through a combination of online and live courses; please see the Course Catalogue for more information on registration fees. Principles and interventions in these courses are easily applied to work with children, teens, adults and families.


 Online Learning for Level One includes 5 of following courses:


Required: Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Foundations, an introduction to the basic concepts of trauma-informed work, trauma-informed expressive arts therapy, and how expressive arts, play therapy and related approaches support trauma recovery using neurodevelopment and mind-body best practices. Emphasis is on how creative interventions support the essential areas of trauma-informed care-- safety, empowerment, resilience, and self-efficacy. Provides 12 hours of continuing education.


Choose an additional 4 from the following list:


Resilience, Posttraumatic Growth and Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Practices (Part One)-- an introduction to four positive factors in trauma integration and recovery: resilience, empathy, gratitude and compassion. The emphasis in this course is on using arts therapies and creative interventions in resilience building, establishing and supporting healthy attachment, and developing empathy. Additional trauma-informed practices including mindfulness and mind-body approaches are introduced to demonstrate their integration with arts therapies principles. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Resilience, Posttraumatic Growth and Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Practices (Part Two) -- building on the concepts in Part One, this course introduces the importance of the practices of gratitude and compassion, including self-compassion, in trauma integration and recovery. The emphasis is on using arts therapies and creative interventions to help individuals of all ages explore positivity as a wellness factor and approach to mediating trauma reactions. Additional trauma-informed practices including mindfulness and mind-body approaches are introduced to demonstrate their integration with arts therapies principles. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Expressive Arts Therapy and Positive Psychology -- The course covers 1) basic principles of positive psychology; 2) the interface and relationship between positive psychology, expressive art therapy and creativity; 3) neurobiology of positive psychology; 4) the concept of flow and its importance to positivity; 5) compassion, connection, courage and contribution as factors in positivity and wellness; and 6) art-based activities related to the theme of positive psychology. All readings and resources are available online; you will also engage in several hands-on activities, short feedback exercises, and complete a short final exam. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Ethics of Art and Play Therapy with Traumatized Children- an introduction to the ethical and legal issues of applying art therapy and play therapy to work with children who have experienced traumatic events, including interpersonal violence, witness to violence, hospitalization, divorce and custody disputes, and disasters. A trauma-informed approach to solving ethical dilemmas and forensic evaluations is included, with an emphasis on questions about retention of artwork, storage and confidentiality. Fulfills most requirements for 6 hours of ethics coursework and particularly helpful for those who are not credentialed as art or play therapists. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy with Children and Families--This course is an overview of art therapy, play therapy and creative arts therapies [music therapy, drama therapy and bibliotherapy] in trauma-informed practice with children and families. Course takers will learn why these approaches are essential to trauma intervention with children and families through short response papers and hands-on experience. Creative interventions allow children and families to actively imagine, experiment with, reframe and rehearse desired changes through self-expression; in this course you will learn a wide variety ways to facilitate trauma-informed, creative interventions and learn more about the foundations of these approaches. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Body-Based Approaches and Expressive Arts Therapy-- Focusing on the physical practices of yoga, this course will bring to light the "how" and "why" utilizing a body-based method is important when addressing trauma. One will both learn and experience these concepts though a variety of articles, films, and research, all provided within this course. Yoga is presented as a body-based approach to building resilience and self-regulation with consideration for trauma-informed methods of counseling and expressive arts therapy. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.


Expressive Arts Therapy Approaches to Self-Regulation and Stress Reduction. This course designed to help you understand and learn more about how expressive arts therapy approaches and methods complement and enhance psychotherapy and counseling. This course emphasizes 1) what is self-regulation and why is it key to trauma-informed intervention 2) current knowledge about self-regulation and stress reduction in psychotherapy and counseling; 3) the neurobiology of self-regulation, including polyvagal theory, interoception, neuroception and social engagement as applied to expressive arts therapy and trauma-informed practice; and 4) a variety of expressive arts therapy strategies for application in psychotherapy and counseling.


Introduction to Expressive Arts Therapy-- This course provides an overview and foundation for understanding the theory and practice of expressive arts therapy in mental health, counseling, psychosocial intervention and overall wellness. It also serves as part of the foundational learning for those accumulating credit hours toward Registered Expressive Arts Therapist credential with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association. Learners will complete a series of short written assignments, quizzes, and hands-on activities to learn more about expressive arts therapy, history of the field and the essential concepts involved in applying approaches to counseling, psychotherapy and arts-based facilitation with children, adolescents, and adults. This course is open to mental health and healthcare professions, expressive arts facilitators, and graduate students who want to learn more about expressive arts therapies and creative interventions. Provides 6 hours of continuing education.

Expressive Arts Therapy | Contemporary Approaches to Practice-- This course is part of the foundational learning in the Expressive Arts Therapies with a focus on major contemporary approaches to practice-- Appalachian Approach, Person-Centered Expressive Arts, Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy, Social Action and Focusing-Oriented Expressive Arts. Learners will complete a series of short written assignments, quizzes, and hands-on activities to learn more about specific approaches and the essential concepts involved in applying approaches to counseling, psychotherapy and arts-based facilitation with children, adolescents, and adults.


Are You Interested in Completing Training in Expressive Arts Therapy or Expressive Arts Coaching and Education?