Creative techniques have often played a part in my work with clients. I have found Lego® bricks to be useful for this. I spent the last two years working in a sexual abuse charity. The work has involved working with clients suffering the after effects of trauma; supporting them as they process their traumatic experiences. This article will look in more depth at this area of my work. Firstly, by touching on some of the theories around trauma I have found relevant. Secondly by looking at Lego® bricks as a creative medium.
How is trauma held in the body?
When researching trauma, to better understand and support my clients, I found the work of Porges, on polyvagal theory, fascinating. Neuroperception is used to distinguish between danger and safety. When danger is perceived vagal withdrawal occurs and the body is stimulated into fight, flight or freeze. This happens even if no danger is actually present. In contrast, if a situation is perceived as safe, increased vagal influence on the heart occurs, and social interaction occurs (Porges, 1995, 2009).
If a traumatised client is stuck in a fight, flight or freeze response, it is helpful to support them in finding ways to stop these responses. Within the therapy space a gentle manner and tone of voice can be used. This help starts to allow the client to instinctively feel the situation is unthreatening. It allows them to become more able to relax and open up. Extending this through movement and play have been noted as significant by authors including Porges (1995, 2009), Van der Kolk (2015), Levine (2010), and Rothschild (2010). This also works through wider social engagement in activities like yoga or drumming; fostering communication between the body and mind.
How can engaging creatively support clients to move forward?
I have seen that engaging both left and right sides of the brain aids healing. Creative approaches can reinstate a sense of calm to the lower brain areas. This eases the path for higher neural networks, and growth and development. (For further discussion see Prendiville (2015) and Kottman, Dickinson and Meany-Walden (2015).)
Thinking in a different way, creatively, about a problem can help a client who is stuck. It can cast a different light or help the client out of a rut. Unconscious or hidden aspects can become conscious, or clearer. Talking about what has been created can allow a way in to difficult or hidden feelings and emotions.
Why Lego® bricks?
One aspect of creative techniques I use is Lego. My work with this was enhanced by my training in Lego® Based Therapy. This illustrated to me how keen adults can be to play with Lego® if given permission. Building a person or a structure to represent a feeling, memory or situation can offer a different way into talking. It can help with talking about something that may feel unmanageable. I have found the faces of the Lego® mini-figures a useful way in, to help name emotions.
I have also found Lego® bricks work well as a creative medium. They bypass some of the negative feelings about perceived skills that drawing, painting, or dance can arouse. Lego® is principally a child’s toy, and it is hard to do it ‘wrong’. Of course, it is not necessary to be proficient in a creative medium to use it therapeutically. However, I know from both personal experience and interactions with clients, that that feeling can persist.
I hope this article has piqued your interest in using more unconventional forms of creative media in your work. If you are interested in finding out more information about the Lego® based therapy workshop I attended, find information here.
You can read more about my work, by visiting my website here www.valleytherapist.wordpress.com.
Written by Clare Whitworth
Kottman, T., Dickinson, R. and Mearny-Walen, K., 2015. The role of non-directive and directive/focused approaches to play and expressive arts therapy for children, adolescents, and adults. In Prendiville, E. and Howard, J., (eds.) Creative Psychotherapy. London: Sage Publications, pp. 39-57
Levine, P.A., 2010. In An Unspoken Voice. How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books
Porges, S.W., 1995. Orienting in a defensive world: Mammalian modifications of our evolutionary heritage. A Polyvagal Theory. Paraphysiology. 32, pp. 301-318
Porges, S.W., 2009. The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 76(2, April 2009), pp. S86-S90
Prendiville, E., 2015. Neurobiology for Psychotherapists. In Prendiville, E. and Howard, J., (eds.) Creative Psychotherapy. London: Sage Publications, pp. 7-20
Rothschild, B., 2010. 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery New York: Norton
Van der Kolk, B., 2015. The Body Keeps The Score. UK: Penguin