Nov 18

Four-Quadrant Somatic Art Therapy: A Scientific Exploration of Profound Healing

Somatic art therapy, an innovative approach at the intersection of somatic experiencing and artistic expression, unveils a transformative modality developed by Johanne Hamel, PsyD, known as the Four-Quadrant technique. Presented at the World Art Therapy Conference in February 2023, this comprehensive art therapy technique embeds scientific somatic theories and practices with profound healing potential into this structured and psychodynamic art therapy approach.

Understanding Somatic Therapy

1. The Neurobiology of Trauma

Somatic therapy, rooted in the understanding of the body’s response to trauma, delves into the intricacies of the autonomic nervous system. Scientifically, trauma’s impact on the brain and nervous system is well-documented, with dysregulation occurring in the delicate balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. Somatic therapy aims to restore this equilibrium, providing a neurobiological foundation for healing.

2. Somatic Experiencing and Neural Regulation

The core of somatic therapy lies in safely experiencing somatic sensations, a paradigm developed by Dr. Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing©) that emphasizes restoring neural regulation through bodily sensations and movements. This model indicates that engaging in somatic experiencing techniques facilitates regulating the autonomic nervous system, promoting a sense of safety and well-being. The scientific underpinnings of somatic therapy set the stage for understanding its integration with art in the Four-Quadrant technique.

Art as a Catalyst

1. Neuroplasticity and Art Therapy

Art therapy, encompassing various modalities, operates on the premise of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself. Engaging in artistic expression induces neuroplastic changes, fostering new neural connections. Scientific investigations reveal that art is a powerful catalyst for shaping neural pathways, offering tangible avenues for healing and emotional expression.

2. Expressive Arts and Emotional Regulation

Scientifically, expressive arts influence the limbic system—the emotional epicentre of the brain. By providing a non-verbal language for emotional expression, art becomes a tool for emotional regulation. The expressive arts, including drawing, painting, and sculpting, offer individuals a medium to articulate and regulate their emotions, contributing to a more nuanced understanding of their internal states.

The Four-Quadrant Technique: Scientific Foundations

1. Embodied Expression in Art

The Four-Quadrant technique emerges as a structured yet dynamic approach, combining somatic therapy principles with art’s expressive power. Scientifically, engaging individuals in embodied expression through art aligns with the principles of somatic regulation.

By encouraging the embodiment of emotions and sensations through artistic creation, this technique creates a tangible bridge between the body’s implicit language and the explicit language of art, making sense of past and present experiences. The technique explores the thin balance between the past, present and future, the feeling about a traumatic event and the reality of it, to gain perspective into one’s own felt response to trauma and explore safely healing solutions for the future that the body already knows.

2. Scientific Examination of Case Studies

Examining case studies presented in the conversation through a scientific lens provides valuable insights into the efficacy of the Four-Quadrant technique. The structured approach of drawing painful sensations, exploring their origins, envisioning a healed state, and depicting the transition aligns with somatic therapy principles. Scientifically, this approach provides individuals with a roadmap for somatic exploration and healing at their own pace and finding the solutions that fit best their person.

This presentation by Johanne Hamel, “Linking Body and Mind: The Four-Quadrant Process in Somatic Art Therapy and Dream Work,” is part of the World Art Therapy Conference 2023. More details at

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