The esteemed Cathy Malchiodi joins us this month on Meet the Author.

I became familiar with Cathy Malchiodi in1999 after reading her book Understanding Children’s Drawings. I clearly recall being taken aback by the breadth & depth of her knowledge. She further sparked my interest in exploring the power of children’s art and utilizing it in treatment with my clients.

I had the pleasure of attending a day-long workshop with Cathy a few years later. I was so impressed with her ability to captivate and engage participants. As I began to implement the use of creative expression within my practice, I found that it proved to be extremely beneficial in the healing process.

As I’ve gotten to know Cathy over the years, I have enjoyed her sense of humor and her charismatic personality. You can always expect to learn about new and innovative approaches when attending one of Dr. Malchiodi’s workshops or reading one of her many, many books.

-Deanne Gruenberg

1.) You have many credentials after your name including PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC, REAT’S…

I think most people know what the PhD and LPCC mean! The LPAT is a license as a professional art therapist; the ATR-BC is my Board Certification as an art therapist; and the REAT is a Registration as an Expressive Arts Therapist. My PhD is in Psychology and specifically Research Psychology and has helped me tremendously in work with military and their families in developing evidence-based programs and creative interventions.


2.) Tell us a little bit about your back ground. What led you down the path of becoming an art therapist, a trauma-informed practitioner and writer/editor? Was there a particular catalyst that influenced your interest in writing?

I started out in fine arts and working in theater; that led me into art education and eventually a masters degree in art therapy. Later on I became licensed as a Mental Health Counselor and then worked toward a PhD in Psychology which I felt I needed in order to learn how to conduct research and also to expand my knowledge of trauma theory. I became a writer in response to a college professor who told me “you can’t write, you probably ought to be an art major!” So I did both—I became an artist and then found my voice through writing about my work as a therapist and then writing for Psychology Today starting in 2008, covering the “Arts and Health.” I have a readership of 3 million! I wish I could let that college professor know, “hey, you were wrong, I can write!”


3.) Do you have any personal influences in the art therapy or trauma field? In what way?

I am influenced by three trauma experts who have been incredibly supportive and kind to me and their names are familiar to most therapists—Bruce PerryPeter Levine, and Bessel van der Kolk. They also have been three seminal voices in explaining the relationship of the body to trauma reactions. Their ideas have helped me to articulate why the expressive arts and play therapies are so effective in work with people of all ages.


4.) Tell us about a typical day in the life of Cathy M. outside of the therapeutic field.

Anyone who knows me understands that I have at least three drawing journals in process; I take time on most days to play digital instruments [sitar and drums] on my iPad and am learning to play the melodica [a combination of the flute and piano keyboard]; I love spinning class; and I take a nap at 1 pm on any day I can get away with it! I recently became addicted to shopping for crazy socks after students in Australia started my collection this past summer. I also cannot resist a good cat YouTube film.


5.) You’ve worked with so many different populations, from kids to veterans and the elderly. What are some challenges you find when working with such diverse groups?

I think any of us who are actively working as trauma specialists have dozens of challenges each and every day. With returning military, stress reactions, traumatic brain injury and suicide are three big clinical challenges; with children, being a mindful witness to their experiences through creative expression is both tremendously challenging and rewarding at the same time. I have been fortunate recently to be able to put together expressive arts programming for older adults who are in “memory care;” the impact of creative expression for these individual is impressive. While it is an ongoing challenge to address cognitive decline, the fact that the expressive arts are so helpful and impactful is something that is very inspiring.

I think the biggest challenge for all who apply arts and play-based activities is to remain present to the client’s needs. There is a tendency to want to find the right set of worksheets or structured activities in a certain sequence; this does not serve the individual in the long run and in most cases, does not result in long-term decrease in trauma responses. It is a challenge to be present to each person with a “beginner’s mind” yet at the same time, bringing experience and wisdom into each session in order to provide the best possible trauma-informed care and creative experiences.


6.) Why are the expressive arts so important in building resiliency in traumatized individuals?

This is one of the topics that gets me up in the morning because I am excited about what positive psychology and resiliency theory has taught us about its importance in intervention. First, you cannot expect to enhance resilience in anyone through a set of workbook activities nor any particular directives. It’s about the relationship between the individual and you and how well you understand the expressive arts and play-based approaches, including how you may have used the arts in your own resilience. After that, I see its importance in three ways:


1. Affect-Regulation. Art making and play can be self-regulating practices and ones that mediate anxiety and depression. Expressive arts therapy research is beginning to identify just how and why this mediation occurs, including some preliminary brain-wise data on what actually happens in the brain and body during creative arts experiences.

2. Mastery. Action-oriented experiences build confidence not only in specific skills, but also in the larger realm of personal efficacy – “I can do this.” The sensory-based, action-oriented qualities of creative expression naturally support capability, competency and personal strengths. Creative endeavors are not only self-rewarding, they are tangible moments of mastery and personal empowerment, enhanced by the positive relationship with a helping professional.

3. Right-Hemisphere to Right-Hemisphere. While creative expression is a whole brain activity and not limited to one part of the brain, the process of expressive arts therapy capitalizes on right-hemisphere dominance of both creativity and the positive attachment between the therapist and individual. The latter is where the transformation happens! And it’s also effective because we are interacting with the child, teen, adult or family without words and through the senses [visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc], making the intervention more powerful than words alone.


7.) Being a part of so many publications and content, do you have any favorites that stand out? Is there an essential Cathy Malchiodi read?

I think Understanding Children’s Drawings is one of my favorites. However, I now keep returning to The Soul’s Palette: Drawing on Art’s Powers for Transformation and Wellness, because it has been useful for helping professionals who want to experience the expressive arts on their own. I also use it with teens and adults I see in practice because the creative experiences in it are structured, yet open-ended to allow for personal expression to emerge. And I am very proud of the second edition of Creative Interventions with Traumatized Children because it now includes wide-ranging approaches like art therapy and EMDR, how to use clay with children, family crisis intervention techniques, self-regulation activities and mindfulness with children and teens.


8.) How has art therapy and trauma-informed therapy evolved since your early days in the field?

First, trauma-informed practice was not really a prominent model a decade ago. I think after September 11, 2001, we really started to look at the experience of trauma differently because we had the opportunity to learn from large groups of traumatized individuals. At the same time we also were learning that talking about people in treatment via “pathology-driven” language that is generally diagnostic, demeaning and culturally insensitive was inappropriate and counterproductive. However, I found myself 30 years ago reframing children’s trauma responses as “adaptive coping skills” rather than “defense mechanisms.” Somehow I came to respect their survival skills, post physical and sexual abuse and violence and saw their response as natural reactions to survive unnatural circumstances.

Art therapy as a field is slowly catching up to the language of neuroscience and the overwhelming evidence that trauma is a body-based experience. Music therapy and dance/movement therapy have been quicker to understand and grasp neurobiology and trauma, probably because music involves rhythm as does movement. It is impressive to read how experts like van der Kolk and Stephen Porges have embraced the importance of movement in the form of dance therapy and yoga in treatment with trauma survivors; that is why I have included those approaches in my work with returning military and their families and children who have survived violence or assault.


9.) You’ve written and edited a plethora of books. What are some of the ways writing differs from editing your colleagues work? Do you have a preference?

For me, writing and editing are not that different. I often rewrite a lot of what is submitted to me as the editor! I know many editors simply “curate” books—they ask authors to write chapters and do not do much rewriting and reorganizing of authors’ work. I am very hands-on and often also write several chapters for books I edit—I love to write. I do write more slowly and carefully than most authors because I believe that what you put into print is your legacy and I want my written legacy to last.

Right now I am writing a book on my 20 years of experience with trauma-informed expressive arts therapy with children, teens, adults, families and communities. What I like best about writing my own books is being able to tell a story through case examples, visual illustrations and specific approaches. That is both exciting and challenging, but ultimately rewarding to see it come to print. Since I have worked with Guilford as a Series Editor, I also generally design the artwork for the covers, too. That gives me a chance to use my art school skills and also communicate what the book is about through images.

10.) Finally, we always like to hear about what is in the works from our authors. Do you have anything coming up or future projects and workshops that you would like to mention here?

2016 is shaping up to be a full schedule of exotic destinations. I will be teaching Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy® Level Three in Hong Kong China and Level One in Saskatoon Canada in May. I am giving an invited talk in London in March and various lectures on expressive arts therapy for arts therapists. There are several US events sponsored by the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute that are open to helping professionals– in Northern California in February [foundations of expressive arts therapies], Denver Colorado in June [visual journaling in trauma intervention] and Anchorage Alaska BP Center [Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Levels One and Two]. For these and other offerings and the online catalogue [for distance learning], people can check this page: or [our home page]. And if you are attending the American Mental Health Counseling Association Annual Conference in July 2016 in New Orleans, I have been invited to provide a Keynote Workshop on trauma-informed expressive arts therapy—so I hope to see you there!

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC, REAT, is a research psychologist, a Board Certified and Licensed Professional Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Registered Expressive Arts Therapist, and has had over 30 years of experience and education in trauma intervention and disaster relief and integrative approaches to health. Cathy is the founder, director and lead faculty member of the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute, dedicated to teaching trauma-informed intervention that integrates neuro-development, somatic approaches, mindfulness, and positive psychology. In particular, it supports the use of creative arts therapies including art therapy, music therapy and movement therapy, play therapy, integrative expressive arts therapies, and mind-body approaches for recovery and wellness in children, adults and families. In a few short years, the Institute has trained over 5000 professionals around the US, Canada, Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe.

Cathy’s blog, Arts and Health at Psychology Today Online covers topics related to art therapy, expressive arts therapy, trauma, body-mind approaches, neuroscience and the arts, creativity, and integrative health practices and has a readership of over 3 million. Cathy is a recognized force in international education, program development and advocacy for trauma survivors and the accessibility of trauma-informed care. She lives in the decidedly weird city of Louisville, KY with husband Dr. David Barker and two feline supervisors, Zoolee and Finnegan.

You can find our selection of Cathy Malchiodi’s books here.

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