There is a growing realisation that trauma is not just an individual experience but a collective one (Machiodi, 2020). Reparation does not just occur in the therapy room but needs to be completed by reintegrating with the community. But if the environment is not safe this reintegration remains incomplete. The current model of trauma informed practice is flawed as it makes the assumption that trauma and adversity is individual rather than global. Most individuals require an expansive approach that take into account larger dynamics. We need a fresh lens which sees healing from trauma as holistic. The ‘healing-centred’ approach involves ‘culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing’. This sees trauma not as an individual event but as emphasises how trauma and healing are collective experiences. ‘Healing centred engagement’ broadens how we think about and respond to trauma. In addition to what trauma-informed practice covers, social justice and intersectionality are included in this conception. When people live in toxic systems and living conditions, trauma-informed interventions cannot be truly effective. Healing centred engagement starts to focus more on what supports well-being (like hope, imagination, trust, dreams etc.). The shift is from ‘what happened to you’ to ‘what is resilient about you’.
Stephen Levine describes the expressive arts as providing experiences of the person’s capacities for action with choice and mastery central (Machiodi, 2020). Machiodi describes how she has applied the arts in non-traditional ways like in churches, tribal lands, disaster sites and neighbourhoods. In addition to mental health professionals many others apply the principles of expressive arts to transformational work in the community and wider society. The experience of creating art together can create a sense of community and being part of a whole, which cultivates identity through sharing experience, even when those experiences are of adversity. Machiodi describes going into communities in the aftermath of trauma and drawing on the community’s resources of hymns and songs, payers etc to soothe themselves. She uses the term ‘healing practices’ to describe practices that evolved within cultural groups to promote health and well-being like rituals, conventions, and ceremonies in response to trauma and loss.
Ellen Dissanayake defines the arts and related activities as processes that bring back social and psychological equilibrium. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien defines the arts has having reparative purposes writing that the earliest healers asked: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” (p.41). Much neuroscience focuses on the assumption that human experience resides in the brain and so healing happens in ‘the head’, through words. The healing traditions from disparate cultures that have existed for millennia have not yet been integrated into trauma-informed systems.
Machiodi argues they are a ‘strong foundation’ for best practice in healing trauma. Machiodi places these traditional approaches into four categories: Movement (dance, yoga etc.), sound (music and music-making), storytelling (role play, drama, visual art etc.) and silence (meditation, art and others that quiet the mind and regulate the body). These approaches help us re-experience oneself, re-sensitise and re-connect – these three R’s are at the core of how cultures have used expressive arts to heal throughout history. Neither trauma-informed care nor healing centred engagement capitalises on the healing capacities of the arts. The fact that humans have always use these approaches is a form of evidence for their efficacy.