Mothers, mothering (parenting) & trauma informing art therapy


I’m one. I know lots, I know women who can’t be one, chose not to be one, feel like they are one, wish they weren’t one.   I had one.  We are all born from one...

but that’s just about the only true sharedness.  The experience of that Mother and being ‘mothered’ is unique to us all.  It covers a breadth of ground that spans from the most beautiful to the unimaginable.  It begins at conception/preconception, when we consider the impact in-utero experience has.  We know that poor nutrition, legal and illegal drugs and substances, life events and the emotions of the pregnant mother all affect the unborn child.  We know now how much they affect the born child too.  From then and continuing into life outside the the womb.  We know it really is about parenting not only mothering.  The experience of safe, loved, positive and wholesome parenting is formative to our physical, psychological, emotional, academic and social wellbeing.

 We know that adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) have effects and contribute to trauma.  Repeated trauma or acute life threatening traumatic events have a direct effect on the whole being of a person.  Abuse, neglect, domestic violence, war etc etc. 

In therapy we bear witness to this.  The historical trauma still being relived today in conscious and unconscious ways of survival, connected with and disclosed to self and/or other.  The overwhelming crisis right now creating immediate traumatic response in a person, community, in society.  We respond in art therapy with a means to:

1) exist.  The image making process directly validates that ‘I’ am still here, exist, am present, real.  

2) express.  Whether literally or abstractly, I then can let out what I feel, and see this as mine (refer to point 1) what I feel now, what I felt them, what I wish I could feel, what I can’t know, what is simply confusion, unknowing and beyond words (refer to point 3)

3) communicate.  Art communicates in a multi levelled and layered way.  Superficially or deep.  Individually or group.  Privately or public.  Loud or silent.  Permission or secret.  Proud or shamed.   Positive, negative, neutral.  With myself, with others, or with no one.  It changes its meaning from moment to moment but in the end the only person who truly knows it’s language is I who made it.  It’s not open to external-expert interpretation other than me, And so it empowers and validates (refer to point 1 and 2)

4) process. It IS a process and it enables me TO process.  It is made within a relational process with an other person, the art therapist.  S/he are present to contain the space, hold my safety, empower my trust, encourage my creativity, witness my truth, enable my voice.  The final art creation in important as the 'statement’ but like a discussion, the way I got there, what happened along its path, the meanderings, mistakes, accidents, play, pauses and ideas all matter.  And inform ME about ME.  In relation to myself, my truth, my close circles and my wider world.  It’s also a process that enables my whole being TO process what’s happened to me.  In the past or recently.  Alone or as part of a group/family/community.  As a child or adult.  As a participant or bystander.  As a helpless or helper.  As a holder of betrayal, confusion and failed mothering (parenting).  Refer to points 1, 2, and 3.  

I am ever humbled by the resilience of the human spirit to survive and heal from situations and life stories that are truly beyond comprehension at times.  

I’d just add, If you have had the good fortune to have a ‘good-enough’ parenting experience with a Mother or mother figure in your life, please celebrate this.  Maybe send love to those who didn’t, don’t or no longer do, and any mothers feeling sorrow today.  

Nb.  This was prompted also by a recent meeting of our newly created BAAT Special Interest group meeting on Complex Trauma, PTSD and DID.  I realised how much we contribute as a profession and how much my life has been trauma-informed as well as my career.   I Look forward to continue being of benefit as a trauma-informed art therapist.  

Trauma-informed practice integrates neuroscience and neurodevelopment, somatic approaches, mindfulness practices, and resilience enhancement. In general, a trauma informed approach takes into consideration, but is not limited to, the following:
1) how the mind and body respond to traumatic events;
2) recognition that symptoms are adaptive coping strategies rather than pathology;
3) emphasis on cultural sensitivity and empowerment;
4) helping to move individuals from being not only survivors, but ultimately to becoming “thrivers” through skill building, support networks, and resilience enhancement (Malchiodi, 2011)
'RAINBOWS' in Cumbria 2018 @AlisonHAwtin 

'RAINBOWS' in Cumbria 2018 @AlisonHAwtin