Jennifer Jacobson


Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Youth in foster care can experience trauma because of separation from their families, abuse from their families and abuse from their foster families. With each “new placement,” kids in foster care typically fall behind by months in school performance.

Adolescence is tough, but add trauma to the mix and potential psychological issues can easily compound. Therapy, small groups and support can help youth heal from trauma, but it’s also important to consider the role of art creation in the healing process.

Benefits of art creation:

1. Connecting with emotion

Trauma often violates a person’s will, circumstances or identity, causing emotions to spiral. To cope, some try tuning out their emotions. They can become numb, as a survival mechanism, so they aren’t emotionally hurt again. Individuals sometimes need to connect with these emotions to heal. Reaching these emotions can be strategic to the healing process.

Since art creation is often seen as fun and approachable, it’s easy to experience. Art doesn’t judge. Art isn’t a therapist who might try to read into your experience. Art doesn’t give you more than you can handle; it moves at your own pace.

Art creation can provide a safe space for youth to get “out of their heads” and explore a medium. Art creation is an exercise in letting out our emotions. We learn to speak the language of art and express ourselves in ways we never knew before.

2. Outlet to express

Art creation offers immediacy when feelings become overwhelming. Emotions aren’t always logical or convenient. If you’re a young person coping with the aftermath of trauma, trying to get through your day or week can be difficult given your circumstances, surroundings and triggers. Knowing you have a regular place to make art is like a pressure release valve. It helps channel that energy into something productive and reliable.

3. Seeing truth objectively

Creating art is about connecting your mind and emotions with something real — whether a painting, song, film, photograph or something else. Art is meant to be experienced. When you create art and experience it, you can see pieces of your inner world that you never saw objectively before. Art is like a mirror for the artist. It’s also a mirror for the audience, who interpret their ideas about a piece.

4. Validating identity

For youth recovering from trauma, it can be tempting to hide from the world, to fade into the background. When trauma happens, there are expectations of therapy, groups and even medical treatment — depending on the trauma. To say it’s an inconvenience is an understatement. Recovering from trauma is often an unpredictable and extremely difficult process.

Art creation is empowering because it allows youth to be seen not as victims of trauma, but as artists, people in control of their narrative. This control is a powerful step in the healing process. Being seen, heard and known by others as a creator can be validating in helping youth learn to trust and connect with the outside world.

About the author: Jennifer L. Jacobson is an artist and communications professional. She founded Nimbus Haus, a volunteer art program in Seattle that helps LGBTQ+ youth and youth in foster care connect with art and expression. To learn more, visit

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