Neurodevelopmental Art Therapy (NDAT)
It is now accepted in neuroscientific and lay circles that the body-based results of trauma are stored in the right hemisphere of the brain (Siegel, van der Kolk). Art therapy, along with the other right brain-activating creative arts therapies (music, dance/movement, drama, drumming, poetry therapy), as well as with play therapy and sandtray therapy, utilize the brain’s integrative capacity.
Activation of the right hemisphere offers access to the stored physical and emotional traumatic memories, internal sensations, feelings, and thoughts that can then be expressed in visual form. Initially, kinesthetic and sensory experiences activate the right hemisphere of the brain, which are then followed by the limbic system, and cognitive and prefrontal structures.
The Neurodevelopmental Art Therapy (NDAT) model for the treatment of developmental and relational trauma is grounded in current neuroscience, and includes interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory. An art therapist using the NDAT model can revisit earlier critical periods of right brain development in order to repair early sensory motor delays and attachment deficits. Spontaneous right brain dynamics are played out within the container of the therapeutic alliance. The emotional right brain is dominant in all forms of psychotherapy, but this is especially true in child psychotherapy that is centered in the creation and perception of right lateralized visual-emotional self-images. The NDAT model underscores the importance of not only interactively regulating the client’s traumatic arousal, but also provides an opportunity for the child to newly experience sensory motor experiences that were lacking in early development. The therapeutic alliance between therapist and client can promote a right-brain mind-body attachment system that was not fully developed in the early relationship with the primary caregiver. As NDAT focuses on the affective power of images in treatment, it not only reduces trauma symptoms, but also allows for an expansion of previously blocked right brain social-emotional development.
The NDAT model of neuroscience-based treatment was developed by Linda Chapman, MA, ATR-BC, whose research considered the extensive writings of Dr. Daniel Siegel on the impact of trauma on brain development and subsequent functioning. Her influences also include Dr. Bruce Perry who writes about the neurobiology of violence, and Dr. Allan Shore, whose research discusses how effective PTSD treatment of complex, relational trauma is now focused on the right hemisphere, the primacy of affect, the importance of relationships at critical times in development, and ways to dynamically apply these concepts in psychotherapy. In the opening pages of his 2012 book, The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, Dr. Schore writes of a paradigm shift occurring across all sciences, from conscious, explicit left-brain discourse to the unconscious, nonverbal, body-based expression of the right hemisphere. Examples of early models of mind-body therapy for PTSD include somatic therapy, sensory motor and EMDR.
As a mental health provider with more than eight years of working with children and teens, I am concerned about the lack of government and other resources for the development of psychological assessments and the prescribing of medication before less-invasive treatments are utilized to control symptoms. I am concerned about the number of young children who are asked to learn academic skills that are beyond their developmental level, their information-processing capacity, and their cognitive ability. I am concerned about the number of children who are exposed to domestic violence, video game violence, film violence, television violence, and the transgressions of those who bully them in their schools and communities. I am concerned about the severity of the cases that cause therapists to feel inadequate when traditional methods of therapy prove ineffective for their clients.