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Arts in the Trauma Healing Process

Stories from the Field, 6 Feb 2024

Speaker: Mary Beth Saurman

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

How does arts play a part in the process of trauma healing? Does using arts actually help in the trauma-healing process? In 2020, as part of Wycliffe Singapore’s Stories from the Field series , Mary Beth, an Arts Master Facilitator and experienced Consultant, shared her experience of using ethno-arts to help others heal from the pain that results from experiencing trauma. Her talk was so well-received that Wycliffe Singapore invited her to share again this year.

What are traumas?

What are “traumas”? When a person suffers intense physical or emotional pain, he will experience grief at the losses he suffers. These could be the loss of something (like an arm or a house), or the loss of an ability or opportunity. If the grief is not processed and dealt with, it can settle or “stick”, and the feelings can reignite in future. These are “traumas” or “heart wounds”.

In 1990, two scripture engagement specialists (Harriet S. Hill and Margaret Hill) and two psychologists (Richard Bagge and Pat Miersma) in Africa produced the book, Healing the Wounds of Trauma. This was a response to the need they saw to educate people in the churches to understand trauma and how to help those who were suffering. The methods taught in the book bring together scripture and prayer, integrated with current mental health expertise. They are also community-based, experiential and participatory, and present a sustainable process which the community can continue to apply.

However, over time, it was found that these methods did not work in some contexts, and

in 2010, Mary Beth was invited to work on a programme that integrated Arts in the Trauma Healing process. It was recognised that suffering trauma affected the cognitive and analytical functions of the brain, and inhibited a person’s self-regulation. How Arts worked in the Trauma Healing process was to help integrate the instinctive and emotional parts of the brain with the cognitive and analytical parts of the brain, so that the person could achieve better self-regulation.

This programme focused on incorporating expressive arts as a means of self-expression and self-reflection. It recognised that the artistic expressions had to be contextualised to the culture of the group involved, and had to be meaningful and communicative. Depending on the group’s culture, meaningful arts might involve music, poetry, embroidery, and even food! There was also a strong emphasis on facilitation skills and co-journeying with the people.

Although trauma healing was first developed in the mission field, it has been recognised that there is a need for Trauma Healing in all societies. The aim is to raise up trauma-informed churches with trauma teams that can provide care and support for all those who are suffering trauma in their midst.


About the speaker:

Mary Beth Saurman is an Arts Master Facilitator with the Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute. She teaches MA courses in Arts and Trauma Healing and also offers shorter training in Arts in the Healing Process.

She has worked with SIL International for the last 30 years as an advocate for the music and arts of ethnic minority groups. She has years of experience working as a Creative Arts Therapist and Music Therapist in clinical settings, including mental health care, geriatric care, and special needs. Her training and expertise focus on Music and Dance/Movement Therapy. She has also used other forms of Creative Arts as therapy such as drama, visual arts, and verbal arts.

Images: © Mary Beth Saurman

It's Happening: Arts in the Trauma Healing Process Basic Training

May 20 - 25, 2024, 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM

This basic training course (Cycle 1) teaches a holistic and interactive approach to engaging Scripture and expressive arts (e.g. music, dance, drama, visual, and oral arts) in the healing process for people who suffer from the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of trauma.

The course combines biblical truths with basic mental health principles. Participants learn to address beliefs and emotions damaged by trauma in their own and others' lives through participatory learning methods and in small groups.

Come and learn how to promote emotional and spiritual healing in traumatised communities through the use of local expressive arts existing in those communities.

Get on our mailing list to be notified when details are released! Or watch our Events page.


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