How Art Helped Me Understand My Sexual Trauma

Art Therapist Kortney Malone

Art Therapist Kortney Malone

Are you a survivor of trauma, a health care provider, or a caregiver having experienced vicarious trauma? Have you ever wondered how to embrace your struggles and view them as a form of strength and resiliency? I have also had to answer this question. A survivor of sexual assault in college and child of a parent struggling with alcohol abuse, I, too, have had to figure out where to direct and manage my mental wellness.

In my first year of college, I recall I was so angry and confused about how to manage these emotions relating to being sexually harmed and now trying to figure out how to figure out who I was away from an unhealthy family dynamic. I tried talk therapy with the university counselors. At this time, I had yet to learn about art therapy as a profession I could seek out for support.


Sculpture by Kortney Malone

Leaning into my strengths as an art major, I found solace in my art to comfort myself. A project I had in my three-dimensional design class asked me to create art around the theme of shelter. The idea that I could choose to create a space where I was in control triggered my inspiration. I poured into my old sketches and journals I kept from my teens and discovered sketches which illustrated the raw feelings I experienced from not feeling safe during and after trauma. What came from this reflection was a jagged roofed cardboard teepee-like shelter I could sit inside. I covered the exterior walls with a mixed media collage of my photocopied sketches and camouflaged colored construction papers on the outside. At the same time, I placed my more deeply held feelings on the inside walls with a broken mirror.

The act of making and sharing in class this artwork was powerful for me. Making my shelter was one of the first times I could begin to find my voice and control the narrative of my story of survival and resilience. While this was not when I decided to make art therapy my profession, I see how this was a step toward my current career. I wanted to use art to help myself and create connections with others to normalize mental health experiences through art.

As an Art Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I have evolved into more of myself. I specialize in treating trauma symptoms to help individuals cope with distress and understand how to shift towards a life of meaning and purpose found through their trauma narrative. Artistically, you can see and hear these narratives by engaging with the art. The experience is tangible. Over time, I have found that I understand my art (and my past trauma) by living life, facing daily challenges. It all makes more sense as struggling for survival turns to thriving.