Though I continue to accept commissions for decorative work, I am currently a doctoral student in Art Therapy. This gallery will flesh out as art therapy research and related visuals emerge.
Below is a recent article I have written about art and healing after trauma, submitted along with fellow contributors to the journal, "Alternative and Complementary Therapies":
Claudia L. Polzer
Published Online:11 Oct 2018
Trauma and Healing
Janet Lynn Roseman, PhD, MS, R-DMT
Contributors: Michael C. Cerullo, Jr., MS, LMHC, Robin Cathleen Coale, MA, LPC,
Danielle Lawrence Kennedy, MA, and Claudia Polzer, MA
The Altered Book of Self: Recreating a Life Story
Claudia Polzer, MA
In this brief essay, I present the human being as a sacred
book, one we often presume to contain a predictable and self-written
story. I also share how art can benefit people whose
narratives have been disrupted by trauma.
It is well known that traumatic events during the course of a
lifetime may dismantle the constructed self-identity story.
Despite the brain’s essential sense-making ability to piece together
a life narrative in linear order, we are exposed to unpredictable
events throughout our life span that may shatter
that story into chapters we do not recognize as our own. The
person who suffers trauma may inwardly feel, and might be
viewed by others to be, like a book of broken narratives, one
whose life story and perhaps exterior too have undergone significant
alterations. The result is a revised story now presented
with parsed together pages of meaning that are no longer
seamless or as easily read.
Art expression is a personal resource that can help to set in
motion transformational change after a traumatic experience.
Learning in the arts, with associated experiences and in different
degrees, reorganizes brain functions in unrealized ways.
Art is said to have a direct effect on triggering Jung’s “transcendent
function,” a connective and unifying force between
the self’s unconscious and conscious dimensions. Art is a
transformative, positive movement in psychospiritual health
and is a natural conduit for insight and well-being. Making art
may increase a positive self-image and sense of self-efficacy,
calm an overstimulated nervous system, and inspire future
creative action. Therapeutic experiences in art can nonverbally
open a way for the release of unconscious trauma stories so that
deeper healing may occur.
During my observations of children in hospitals, many traumatized
children, whether by accident, illness, abuse, or the
hospital experience itself, exhibited little desire to play or
make art. It would, of course, be a breach of ethics to permit
any play or artmaking that jeopardizes a child’s personal and
medical security. As recovery began, children were introduced
to materials carefully. A child learns through play, and art
practice helps them too, along with adults, to find meaning in
their own experience.
As a visual artist, I may work with images as narratives in
visual form and as metaphors for something being expressed
by the undiscovered self. It is visual art that I refer to in this
writing, though each expressive art form—dance, poetry, film,
and music—offers its unique medicine.
I share two art forms that I have used, both therapeutically
and as artistic expression, with adults. The altered book of
this paper’s title is applied here as more than an analogy of
the changed person through a traumatic event (albeit a weak
comparison in relation to the dynamic human soul). It is also a
contemporary, mixed-media art form that can be psychologically
and emotionally beneficial in its very making.
One way to begin is to choose a discarded book that inspires
the reader in some way, perhaps guided by the text or the
images within it. Consider how you would represent your own
story on its pages. The cover and selected pages can be painted
with white gesso to start with a blank surface, or preferred
sentences can remain, and your ownwords added to create a new
narrative. In the act of remaking, the original book is altered, in
small measure or significantly, by unlimited means. The book
can be reshaped and added to by way of imprints, stamping, and
sewing, or reduced by cutting, tearing, or scorching with a
culinary torch. The second art form is collage, coming to us
from the French meaning “a glued work.” Similar to the altered
book, the method of collage is through assemblage, formed by
cutting and piecing elements together, typically preprinted
papers, poetry, and magazine or photo images. Gluing images
to the book’s pages with white glue, and objects applied with
tacky or wood glue, adds visual dimension and sensorial
stimulation. The two art forms are often used together, along
with stitching pieces of fabric onto pages, whatever choice
suits the creative spirit and therapeutic needs of its maker.
Books are available with additional methods to facilitate an
altered book creation. Two very helpful ones with comprehensive
instructions and lists of materials are Altered Books
Workshop by Bev Brazelton1 and Altered Art by Terry Taylor.2
In both of these artistic ways of knowing, the altered book
and the collage, a visual narrative emerges, a narrative defined
by the creator who makes the art, but in therapeutic settings,
insight may also be offered by an art therapist regarding color,
metaphor, and other expressed features. I have highlighted
these two art forms among others because they may better
represent the expression of dramatic change as lived by many
adults and children who have been transformed through a
single, or many, traumatic events. The randomness of imagery
in the altered book incorporating collage can show us a new
way to imagine ideas of self.
Altered books and collage are also representative of art
that has emerged from a postmodern conception of reality
in which identity formation is neither linear nor predictable.
This new perception is rewriting our understanding of social
and power structures at all levels. The self-reflective learner
open to reflexive experiences may develop more than one
story, even multiple stories, that formulate a healthy identity
Helping to scribe the book of a person’s life is a higher form
of art, and rewriting, revisioning a life after the original narrative
is broken, is an even greater spiritual act. A correlation
between art and spirituality is drawn from ancient times when
art arose out of myth and religion. In modern culture, art works
can represent sacred texts with mystical import that can guide
What we each bring to the traumatic event and how we
respond, as both participant and witness, will better determine
the course such dramatic new narratives take us after trauma.
There is no one cultural association, national boundary or gated
community, unique diet or positive belief system that inoculates
the human being from the occurrence of a traumatic
event. Trauma can be an equal opportunity change maker as
lives spin on a global axis. The trajectory of its effect is determined
in large part by how we perceive and respond to its
potential impact with the emotional, psychological, social, and
spiritual resources we are able to access. Many may bring to
the event religious or spiritual beliefs that will be revised, and
long-held convictions suddenly carry no weight as the old story
An awareness of our spirituality can benefit human life in
all stages of growth, in times of calm and
cataclysm. Yet, it is often the case for many that an active
search for life’s meaning and purpose occurs after a traumatic
event. This is where it becomes so important that educators and
clinicians are supported with current knowledge that we can
predictably expect, and with hope work toward development
of psychological supports, enhanced spiritual capacity, and
deepened artistic knowing to decipher the meanings of those
events in whoever is impacted and thereby make significant
progress toward healing.
1. Brazelton B. Altered Books Workshop: 18 Creative Techniques for Self
Expression. New York, NY: F1W Media, Inc., 2004.
2. Taylor T. Altered Art: Techniques for Creating Altered Books, Boxes,
Cards & More. New York, NY: Lark Books, a division of Sterling Publishing,
Claudia Polzer, MA, Clinical Psychology, Columbia University, Spirituality
Mind Body Program, is currently a student in Florida State University’s PhD
Art Therapy Program. She has created and facilitated workshops for children
and adults using imagery and art and is dedicated to the pursuit of using the arts
as a potent healing modality.
Janet Lynn Roseman-Halsband, PhD, MS, R-DMT, is an Assistant Professor
of Integrative Medicine at Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic
Medicine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She specializes in spirituality and medicine
and compassionate care and is the Founding Director of the Sidney
Project in Spirituality and Medicine and Compassionate Care. She is the
author of several books, including her most recent, If Joan of Arc Had Cancer:
Finding Courage, Faith and Healing from History’s Most Inspirational Woman
Warrior. In 2016, she received the Joseph Moore Award from Lesley
University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for her work in oncology.
To order reprints of this article, contact the publisher at (914) 740-2100.
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ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES OCTOBER 2018