Neurodevelopmental Art Therapy (NDAT) for Developmental and Relational Trauma in Children and Adolescents
Based on research by Linda Chapman, ATR-BC, who is a nationally recognized expert in art therapy and play therapy with children who are victims of violence, child abuse, and medical trauma. Her work is derived from Dr. Allan Schore’s research in neurobiology in the clinical setting. Like art, psychology and psychotherapy is derivative. More on the definition and description of NDAT.
Acute: medical, natural disasters, human made disasters
Chronic: repeated, anticipated, persistent exposure. High incidence of PTSD, complex trauma,
developmental and relational: massive misattunement from caregivers causes extreme stress,
hyper or hypo arousal, altered neurochemical system
Sensorimotor delays - both sides of brain not operating in sync - left brain involves logical, linear thinking; right brain is body-based, seat of emotions. Due to massive misattunement in early development, parental abuse, etc.
Lower Brain: involuntary: breathing, heartbeat
Mid Brain: limbic structure, seat of the emotions, and where PTSD resides
Higher Brain: neocortex, prefrontal cortex makes us human; thinking, planning, judgment,
consequences, wisdom, compassion, empathy.
Not completely developed until age 25.
NDAT and the brain’s integrative capacity:
The technique I use with my clients is based on the neurobiology of attachment, on development, and on early experiences that the child may have missed from an abusive, or drug-induced parent. Much of what I do in using art therapy is to go back and re-work those neural systems and re-do things that were deficits in early development.
Bilateral Scribble (PDF)
Warm-up, fun and engaging, a kinesthetic experience, stimulates formation of imagery, activates both hemispheres.
Structured media, such as pencils, markers, collage is more controllable. Fluid media, such as acrylic paint, watercolors, fingerpaint, clay with water, is less controllable, and potentially more regressive
NDAT uses the scientific, or medical model of therapy, more so than transpersonal, solution-focused, and cognitive behavioral models The NDAT model tries to address and reduce specific symptoms. Children who are socially withdrawn, inattentive, have cognitive underachievement, depression, or have anger control problems in childhood and adolescence. There may be higher incidences of panic disorder, substance abuse, suicidal preoccupation,shame, guilt, self-blame. These children and adolescents are more likely to be abusive parents themselves. Symptoms of sensorimotor delays look like ADHD, ASD, etc.
Talk therapy is hard for people with trauma histories. Trauma is recorded or encoded in the RH that is nonverbal. FIrst make drawings, then can put words to image, not the other way around. Trauma is not stored in the LH, where there is no access to it.
Art therapist Juliet King, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, LMHC joins Dave Gussak, PhD, ATR-BC for a discussion on the intersection of art therapy and neuroscience. 6:10 minutes.
The corpus callosum—the band of tissue that connects the hemispheres of the brain— is smaller in abused children than in nonabused children. The child cannot access the higher structures of the brain for thinking, planning, judgment, consequences, wisdom, compassion, or empathy.
The concrete image on the paper allows the child to objectify the images, creating distance and allowing her to speak about an external event rather than an internal one. Objectification of images also eliminates the flooding of disturbing images and sensations. Emotions are expressed and released through art media. Incoming stimuli such as intrusive images, sensations or memories become better organized as the person becomes more aware of affect. It’s easier to talk about something that’s outside yourself. Teens like art therapy because they think they won’t have to talk about themselves or their family.
In trauma situations, the brain is primarily processing information visually. The most common recall of traumatic imagery is in visual form. NDAT helps children remember, express, and integrate traumatic episodes.
The core element of trauma resolution is creating a narrative: a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. So if you had a traumatic experience, you may have intrusive images, you may be triggered by smells, sounds, sights, perhaps a particular type of person. Traumatic reminders just happen randomly throughout life. When we can organize that story that is a narrative, there is a neurochemical transformation that takes place that moves that processing to the higher structures. The way you know it’s happening is that now the child has language about the event. Which means it’s moved from implicit memory to explicit memory.
In mental health, where you would think that art therapy would be more widely accepted, it’s much more of a battle. In medicine, people are much more open to art therapy programs, art therapy placed in the medical setting. Physicians and surgeons are more open to new procedures, and are more welcoming to alternative modalities in general. The field of art therapy desperately needs outcome research in the form of randomized controlled studies to show the effectiveness of art therapy. Art therapists in collaboration with professionals in other disciplines will need to be involved. With collaboration, there are more opportunities for funding as well. Designed to train students as both researchers and practitioners, the new PhD program at NDNU is the only one of its kind in the country.
Art therapist is the 4th hottest job in the U.S. right now (2016). There is increasing interest in art therapy masters programs, and the first PhD program in the US is now at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, CA. Art therapy is the new frontier as we move to a more mind-body approach to healing.