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Healing Traumatized Children: Creating Illustrated Storybooks in Family Therapy*


  • Lesley Hanney MA, MSc,

    1. Lesley Hanney is an art therapist and family therapist who trained in Australia and, later, in England. She is currently on extended maternity leave; correspondence to her may be directed to Dr. Kozlowska.
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  • Kasia Kozlowska MBBS, FRANZCP

    1. Kasia Kozlowska, a child psychiatrist, received her training in Australia. Send correspondence or reprint requests to her at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Locked Bag 4001, Westmead NSW 2145, Sydney, Australia; e-mail:
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  • *

    The authors thank Max Cornwell for his help in the preparation of this manuscript, Bev Turner for helping us in the work with Bradley K and his family, and Malini Sivabalan for secretarial support.


In this article we describe the therapeutic practice of creating illustrated storybooks in family therapy with traumatized children. Illustrated stories offer a predictable structure to sessions and facilitate engagement and participation of children in therapy. The therapeutic emphasis of storybooks can be adjusted to take into account a child's life story, verbal capacity, level of anxiety, and traumatic hyperarousal. The creation of storybooks is an active process that embraces important aspects of trauma-specific interventions, including expression of trauma-related feelings; clarification of erroneous beliefs about the self, others, or the traumatic event; and externalization of traumatic stimuli into artwork, allowing for exposure and habituation of the arousal response. A focus on visual images together with narrative takes advantage of children's developmental capacities and spontaneous pleasure in the creation of art, thus minimizing anxiety and enhancing feelings of mastery, competence, and hope. The creation of storybooks is compatible with family interventions that foster a safe family context, strengthen attachment relationships, insure appropriate structure and boundaries, and enhance parenting capacity as well as those interactions that facilitate understanding and dialogue between family members.