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Hand-drawn image of what art therapy participants hope to offer to and receive from the trauma-informed art therapy group at YSM

Trauma-informed art therapy group heals through connection

In a YSM art therapy group, one participant created a collage of images as she wrote down the ideas she wanted to remember: “I’m unique, but also I’m not unique. Others have similar tales, and it’s okay to experience all these feelings.”

Learning to express emotions

Since 2021, YSM’s Mental Health Art Therapist Mafalda Silva has been facilitating an open trauma-informed art therapy group in which participants can explore their feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment, helping to reduce symptoms related to stress, anxiety, and depression. Free and offered online, the group makes art therapy accessible to anyone in the community who might benefit as part of their journey to move from surviving to thriving.

“It’s not always easy to express our emotions in words, and many people have difficulty expressing how they feel, or even understanding how they feel,” Mafalda explains. “In art therapy sessions, participants use art materials to explore these thoughts and feelings through creative expression. No art experience or skill is needed!”

Participants spend time creating, and then Mafalda, who is a registered psychotherapist and art therapist, facilitates a time to reflect on their feelings and on the resources they possess to cope. This helps group members create their own pathways to wellness. 

Healing connections with others

While a group setting is not the place to explore active trauma — and Mafalda offers individual appointments for this purpose — a group can offer a transformative experience of connection, compassion, acceptance, and belonging. As one person tells their story, others in the group listen, nodding and affirming they’ve shared similar experiences.

“They support each other a lot,” Mafalda says. “They often come with the experience of not feeling heard, listened to, or seen. The majority of our clients come from childhood traumas where they never had anyone validating their emotions or their strengths. The beauty of a group is that it’s a way for people to feel heard and seen, and not to feel alone in their struggles. They’ll share what strengths they see in each other. It’s very powerful.”

You can learn more about mental health counselling at YSM here.

This story originally appeared in YSM’s summer 2024 Urban Lights.