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DUL Author Event Offers Strategies for Using Creative Expression to Manage Stress & Trauma

December 7, 2022

The Drexel University Libraries, in collaboration with the College of Nursing & Health Professions, hosted an author event on Wednesday, November 30 with Professor Girija Kaimal discussing her new book The Expressive Instinct: How Imagination and Creative Works Help Us Survive and Thrive.

Sixteen Drexel faculty, staff, students, and members of the public attended the event held in the W. W. Hagerty Library, with another 10 attendees joining remotely via Zoom.

People draw in a classroom.
During the event, in-person attendees had the opportunity to create their own bookmarks. Drawing or doodling are simple ways to easy stress, Prof. Kaimal explained.

During the event, Dr. Kaimal, who is an Associate Professor and the Interim Chair of the Department of Creative & Art Therapies at Drexel, spoke about the inspiration for her latest book and discussed the benefits of using self-expression to manage emotions and process stress and trauma.

“Challenges are thrown at us all the time, and there's no getting away from that. If we don't learn to process our responses and [develop] strategies for the future, we will constantly be knocked down by the very same challenges…” Professor Kaimal explained during the event. “My purpose in writing this book was to make the idea of creative self-expression democratic and accessible—to [help people] recognize that [creative expression is a] superpower that is in us all. I wanted to share with the interested public how creative expression can help us through really difficult times.”

For example, artistic expression can be particularly useful for military populations and children dealing with trauma. Professor Kaimal has worked on several studies that examine outcomes of art therapy for military service members with traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress and using art in education and human development, both of which she describes in her book.

“We did a study in Malawi, Africa a few years ago [with children who are orphaned because of HIV/AIDS.] A big push in this project was to move away from artistic expression as a sort of product-based approach where you create a pretty picture. [Instead, we focused on art as a way to] talk about what's going on today. What does this color mean for you today? Let's move away from creating pretty pictures to using art as a way to communicate when we don't have words. And very often with children who are struggling, they don't have the words. Art becomes a way to communicate.” 

Staff from the Drexel Bookstore brought copies of Prof. Kaimal's book to the event and took time to participate in the creative activity.

Other forms of creative expression, like doodling, can also be powerful tools to combat a range of mental states, including boredom, distractedness, and anxiety.

She added that she hopes her book will give readers tools to use creative expression in their own lives and dispel the myth that creativity is the “domain of a gifted few.”

“I think we’ve gotten unhealthily disconnected from our creative and expressive capacity—that art is for someone else, for professionals,” she said. “Think about what you enjoyed as a kid. What did you enjoy making? Go back to that—photography, writing, gardening, culinary arts. There’s creative potential in all these activities.”

To end the event, Professor Kaimal led the group through a simple creative activity--creating hand-drawn bookmarks--to show how easy it is to use art as therapy and relieve stress and signed copies of her book.

If you missed the event, watch the recording on the Libraries’ YouTube channel. Professor Kaimal’s book is available from the Drexel Bookstore and will be available to borrow from the Drexel Libraries in early 2023.