Faculty & Staff

Marni Rosen, Psy.D.: Expressing the Traumatic Truth through Art Therapy

In our last issue of the Adler School’s Gemeinschaftsgefühl magazine, we profiled the work and words of Marni Rosen, a 2011 graduate of our Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program. We felt her story’s worth sharing again. Our thanks again to Marni and the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, Conn., for working with us to feature it, along with the photographs of their work.

Alumni, comment below and tell us about the work you are doing. We like to hear about and share updates from our graduates.

Marni Rosen, Psy.D.

Marni Rosen, Psy.D. (Photo: Julie Bidwell Photography)

Expressing the traumatic truth

(from Gemeinschaftsgefühl, summer 2012)

Marni Rosen, Psy.D. ’11 is an art therapist and post-doctorate psychotherapist specializing in trauma-informed psychotherapy and creative arts therapies with survivors of abuse, domestic violence, and severe neglect. An active artist, lecturer, and writer, she is also on the research staff of Yale University’s Holocaust Trauma Project. She is contributing to the development of a new approach to trauma therapy—trauma-centered psychotherapy—and collaborating with Adler School art therapists to combine the approach with art therapy.

I lean in from the edge of my chair. “Did you get hit with an object?” I ask.

Her head nods yes.“An electric wire?” I receive another nod.

A shoe?  Again, a nod.

A wooden spoon? No, a wooden broom.

I continue to list the possible traumatic experiences that my client may have faced in her childhood home, because the reality of my job is that I know that there is always more.

A World Trade Center beam fronts the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, reflecting commitment to eradicating trauma

A World Trade Center beam fronts the Post Traumatic Stress Center, reflecting commitment to eradicating trauma. (Photo: Julie Bidwell Photography)

I am a trauma therapist at the Post Traumatic Stress Center (PTSC) in New Haven, Conn., a clinic specializing in the evaluation, treatment, and training for post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related conditions. I work in collaboration with 15 incredible trauma therapists of multiple disciplines, from psychiatry to drama therapy.

Each therapist brings a unique perspective supported and integrated into the trauma treatment of our clients, from yoga and body work to early intervention, school-based intervention, and social action. Our work does not have age, ethnic, or socioeconomic limits; our clients arrive to us through self-referral and the Department of Children and Families. My caseload is diverse: clients who are ages 4 to 67, Caucasian to Native American, male, female, LGBT, individuals on Medicare and Medicaid, and individuals who self-pay. Their common thread is trauma.

As PTSC’s art therapist and only clinical psychology post-doc, I use the visual arts to support the narrative and imaginal exposure process of the Trauma Centered Psychotherapy (TCP) model developed by Dr. David Johnson and Dr. Hadar Lubin, the Center’s co-directors. As a client retells his or her traumatic experience, art materials are offered to stretch elements of the narrative: whether through visual representation of a thought or feeling during the event, or a direct image of event itself. Finding the words to express trauma is a common challenge for trauma survivors. Creative arts therapies can bridge the shattered memory or painful emotion, and a cognitive-linguistic expression of the traumatic experience. It brings the absence of language into the present though art.

My job, my career, and my passion is to help survivors of trauma. I listen to the stories that others cannot tolerate, the stories that family members refuse to ask about, that society does not want to admit happen with more frequency than imaginable.

I ask, because if I do not, no one will—and these details that trauma survivors carry with them every day perpetuate their symptoms, creating ripples of shame, guilt, and isolation. I sit with my clients as a witness to the horrific events of their lives, and help each one find the means to express the atrocity, the pain, and the harm of their traumatic experiences.

My office is clearly that of a trauma art therapist. On every ledge are art supplies and artwork; on every wall and canister, an expression of trauma. It’s important that trauma and art are embodied throughout the environment and the treatment—to say nothing is more important than expressing the traumatic experience.

As a socially responsible clinician and Adlerian by training, I take my work beyond therapy walls to the greater communities of the PTSC, New Haven, and the general field of psychology. I developed and hosted a PTSC community art show on the collective impact of trauma, showcasing the artwork of our clients, therapists, and family members, and created a Trauma-Centered Art Therapy group. I give community and professional lectures for clinicians and families on providing trauma treatment, parenting traumatized children, and discussing trauma with children.

Into every client session, every group, and every colloquium, I take in my therapeutic backpack the invaluable experience of working with PTSD and my socially invested, socially interested education at the Adler School. I continue to ask difficult questions  and ask about the details, all the pain and the suffering, knowing that in the process my clients will be relieved of their symptoms and given voice.