Art Therapy support for vicarious trauma: support for social workers


As adults we sometimes forget about taking time to pause and take care of ourselves. This can especially be true for professionals such as social workers who work to tend to other people’s needs. The amount of stress and trauma that the person is exposed to for a prolonged period of time can have a serious impact on the person’s mind, body and their overall wellness.

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma is a term used to describe a person who is traumatized by witnessing or becoming aware of the trauma of another person. For example, social workers who work in child welfare, this might look like hearing stories of people who have gone through traumatic experiences, reading file notes, and or working with them. Often times in literature, the word vicarious trauma is replaced with words such as compassion fatigue and burnout. Over time, being exposed to high stress and traumatic cases can have a negative impact on wellbeing. It is important to be aware of the signals that our bodies send us and to find healthy ways to tend to those needs to reduce the negative effects.

Art Therapy and Self Care for Caring Professionals

Art therapy can be beneficial for adults as a means of self care, especially for professionals working in high stress environments. Engaging in the process of making something, while talking as well, can provide a client opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of their feelings, reflect on what might be going on for them internally, and feel supported, as they work out how they would like to shift their thoughts and feelings to manage more adaptively. With no prior art making knowledge necessary, clients have the opportunity to tell their unique stories in a safe inviting confidential space. The art therapy process can allow a caring professional to take the time to pause and pay attention to their needs, while honouring all that they give to the children, youth and families they serve.

Art as Therapy therapists are Registered Psychotherapists, psychotherapy sessions are covered by most extended health benefit programs.

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Reframing Difficult Behaviours

Reframing Difficult Behaviours

Educational consultant Michael Reist makes the argument that difficult children grow up to be interesting adults. He looks at challenging traits in children and considers how these will serve them as adults. For example, an argumentative child has strong verbal communication skills, is passionate, and is intelligent. A disorganized child is more interested in the big picture, a stubborn child is able to set goals and work towards them, a child who doesn’t listen is able to tune out distractions and focus on a single task, and a defiant child is confident enough to stand up to authority figures. These are traits we often encourage or even try to develop in adolescents and young adults. 

Art as Therapy’s Tips for Reducing the Power Struggle with your Kids

Art as Therapy’s Tips for Reducing the Power Struggle with your Kids

In our work with families, we often speak to parents who are experiencing defiance from their children and find themselves frustrated in a constant power struggle. How do you deal with these difficult moments? Is there a way to step out of the power struggle and instead stand beside your child and empower them in those moments?

Simple strategies for identifying and labeling feelings

Simple strategies for identifying and labeling feelings

Welcome to part two of Art as Therapy’s blog series on simple strategies for parents to help children express their emotions. Last month we talked about how children learn to identify, express, and manage their emotions through interactions with others, especially their parents. Sometimes part of the difficulty in expressing emotions is being unsure about what it is that we are feeling. Visual feelings tools can help us to identify our emotions, and to place them within the context of our experiences. Here are some more strategies to help you and your children to identify and label all different kinds of feelings in yourselves and in others:

7 Simple Ways to Keep Peace During the Christmas Season

7 ways to keep peace.jpg

Guest Blog by Kimberley Milousis

The Christmas holidays are meant to be a time to rest and reflect upon the year and on the loving spirit of Jesus. It's so easy to forget this and get caught up in the stresses of all the food we have to prepare, and gifts we have to buy, and extra places we have to commute to. Here are the ways I refocus on what matters during the holiday season.

1. Have a Relaxing Morning Routine

The way you start your day sets the pace for how the rest of the day will play out. Some powerful habits to cultivate in the morning include: Morning prayers, meditation, breathing, yoga, qigong, stretching, working out, goal-setting, reading a motivating or spiritual text, mindfulness, ... or anything else that gets your body and mind relaxed while focusing your energy on what you will accomplish in the day.

2. Take 5-min Breaks Every 25 mins Working

Taking short breaks frequently during work will do wonders for body and mind. You will notice that by stretching your eyes, your back, and your limbs - and even just giving your mind some down time - you will be happier, relaxed, and surprisingly more productive! Set a timer for 25 minutes whenever you start working, and simply get up and see what's going on with your body for a few minutes whenever the timer goes off.

3. Take a Break from your Story 

We lose so much energy thinking! Our minds cost significant biochemical resources to operate. By spending so much of our day thinking about the past or imaginary future situations, we use up a LOT of our daily energy, leading to mental stress, bodily tension, and overall burnout. Take a break from your mind by not buying into the alluring stories your mind makes up. Practice this skill through daily mindfulness and meditation. 

4. Use Essential Oils to Help Release Tension

Whenever I feel tense or stressed, I combine mental techniques - like intentional breathing - with physical medicine like essential oils to maximize my relaxation. The best oils I use for relaxing are Lavender Oil, the Peace Oil Blend, and the Serenity Oil Blend. Lavender is known for it's relaxation properties and has been used by natural healers for thousands of years. Both the Peace Oil Blend and the Serenity Oil Blend combine Lavender with other relaxing plants for maximum effect. I use Serenity at night and Peace in the day.

5. Don't Over-Eat

Our Western culture tends to eat way more than we need to, and it's actually incredibly harmful for our bodies. Our live has over 300 different process it does to detox and heal the body, and it can't do any of them if you're digesting food. Intermittent fasting (not eating from 6pm until 9am) and eating only until you're 70% full are both powerful methods for allowing your liver to heal your body. With less energy going into digesting, you'll have more energy to enjoy the rest of your day and you will be less stressed and tired as a result.

6. Take Time to do Something Fun for Yourself

Take time every day to do activities in the physical world (ie. not online) which you genuinely love and enjoy doing. Focus on expressing and being a creator during these times. When you find places you really love to put your energy into, more energy will naturally bubble up from within you so you can keep creating.

7. Focus on Relaxing an Hour Prior to Sleeping

Your night routine is just as important as your morning routine! The night is the time for your body to heal and relax itself so you can be rested and energized for the following day. If you are on technology or are stimulating your body with food or stressful activity, then you won't be doing the healing you so desperately need during the night, because your body-mind will be processing all the other stimulation you just put into it. Take the our before bedtime to do only relaxing and restful activities. A small amount of nightly prayers, meditation, or movement will help you relax deeper as you sleep.


Are you interested in finding out more about essential oils? Visit Kimberley’s Essential Oil page:

The Power of Gratitude and 3 Creative Ways to Practice It

The Power of Gratitude and 3 Creative Ways to Practice It

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” – A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh.

In recent years, scientific studies have shown that being thankful can improve our lives in all kinds of ways. According to this infographic created for the Huffington Post, cultivating an attitude of gratitude has physical, mental and psychological benefits ( The infographic summarizes the results of studies suggesting that grateful people have lower blood pressure, smoke less tobacco, exercise more, take better care of their physical health, sleep better at night, and have lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Studies suggest that being grateful improves self esteem, reduces the risk for major depression, reduces negative emotions like envy, and can increase empathy and resiliency even when we are faced with challenging or negative experiences. Gratitude is also strongly correlated with optimism, and increased optimism can improve immune system functioning and make us feel happier (

“Open in Case of Anxiety”: Three Tips for Facing Social Fears at High School

“Open in Case of Anxiety”: Three Tips for Facing Social Fears at High School

For many, September brings a sense of new beginnings and a chance for a fresh start. High school students may see the dawning of a new school year as an opportunity to reinvent themselves socially – to make new friends, to try a new style, or to join a club. While offering many valuable learning opportunities, the social dynamics of high school can bring tremendous pressure and may trigger some anxiety. In our work at Art as Therapy we often find that friendships and social dynamics are a big cause of anxiety as teens head back to school. Teens may worry about how their peers will react to a new hairstyle, or have fears around not knowing anyone in class, or feel anxious that they will not fit in with the desired group.

Creative Strategies for Managing Back to School Anxiety

Creative Strategies for Managing Back to School Anxiety

While the art therapy process allows clients and therapists to create unique and individualized solutions, today we’re sharing some general creative strategies for managing back to school anxiety. First there are three basic tips for parents, followed by three arts-based tools to make together that will equip students for the first day of school.

Five simple tips to support a child experiencing back to school anxiety.

Five simple tips to support a child experiencing back to school anxiety.

Going back to school after summer’s freedom can be tough for some children, sometimes leading to tears, outbursts, difficulty in transitions and other signs of anxiety. If this has been your experience as a parent or caregiver, that’s okay! Having a level of back to school anxiety is normal for most kids. As a way to support families and children before the school year begins, Art as Therapy will be providing a series on back to school anxiety, starting from some practical tips for caregivers on how to support your child before school starts.

Parenting a Child with Autism

Image created by Sally Chung from the Art as Therapy team

Image created by Sally Chung from the Art as Therapy team

Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with ASD is even harder. Understanding your child, understanding the disorder and understanding how the disorder affects your child will make it easier. In case you need to know where to start, here is a list of the top 5 things parents of kids with ASD should know:

1.    They have lagging skills.If you’ve never heard of Ross Greene, you should probably look him up. Dr. Greene has written several books on how to deal with consistently defiant, frustrated, and overwhelmed kids. Otherwise known as “challenging kids”. One of his key points is that “kids do well if they can”. If your child isn’t doing well somewhere it’s because they are lacking the skills to do so – not the motivation. Find out the skills your kid needs to learn (things like, “how to manage frustration” or “how to appropriately go from something fun to something not-so-fun”) and teach them how to do it. 

2.    Understand their sensory needs.Most kids with ASD struggle with sensory processing and fall somewhere between things being “too much” or “not enough”. Some kids can even be oversensitive and under sensitive simultaneously. What this looks like is a kid who can barely stand to have his hair cut, but doesn’t seem to notice a large cut on his leg. They can experience sensory overload which can lead to challenging behaviour. When you know what bugs them, you’ll be able to anticipate difficult, meltdown-inducing situations. 

3.    They are often concrete and black and white thinkers.I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you say “we’ll go in one minute”, your child will be watching the clock for the next 60 seconds. It is very hard to manage yourself in a world full of grey areas when you’re black and white. Throw in some rigid thinking and you can see how they often get stuck on seemingly “unimportant” details. Keep in mind these details are VERY important to them and, in fact, these details help them create order in a very disorganized world. Be as specific as you can. Don’t use “in a minute” as a blanket statement for “soon”. Give them an exact number whenever you can and stick to it.

4.    You may see Jekyll and Hyde.The school says “we don’t see that behaviour here” but you can’t understand how that’s possible. Your child can be two different people depending on the environment. It often takes a lot of emotional control and energy to “keep it together” at school. Once they get home, all bets are off and the built-up pressure from the day needs to be released. This release will likely come right after you’ve asked her to do a seemingly simple chore like empty her backpack or feed the dog. The time directly after school should be a “no expectation zone”. She needs time to decompress and fully relax. This calming time is a necessary part of her day and will allow for the evening to be more pleasant.

5.    Acceptance is the key to success.Your child with ASD has a brain that is wired differently from yours, from their peers, and from their siblings. You can’t expect them to behave, think, and understand things in the same way. You may expect your neurotypical child to sit at the dinner table with Aunt Mildred but your kid with ASD may not be able to do it. Social and sensory challenges get in the way of this. Expecting them to sit there for 5 minutes may be all that you get. This is okay! Accept them for who they are and what they are capable of. Make accommodations and be flexible.

There is one last thing that I wanted to add to this list but “the top 6 things” doesn’t have the same ring to it. However, this may be the most important point, so it’s probably a good thing it has its own paragraph. Spend quality time together and build rapport. This is possibly the single most important thing you can do to make your lives easier. When you share a genuine love, respect, and understanding with your kid, they’ll simply be better behaved. When they feel connected and valued they act in ways that show it. Simultaneously, when they feel isolated and unimportant, they’ll act in ways that show it. Hug them, smile, set aside time to play together, and reinforce their importance and worth over and over again. As a human, when you feel better, you do better. Find some time every day to show your kid how important they are. There is nothing more important than that and there is nothing more important than them.

Guest blog writer Carley Johnson from Kerry's Place Orangeville ON


Attwood, Tony. Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

Greene, Ross. W. The Explosive Child