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Student Showcase Archive

Susan Young

MPhil work

MPhil work

Trauma, Metamorphosis and Animation

The aim of this research is to investigate whether animation can be a useful tool in the treatment of psychological trauma.

Child abuse, domestic violence, military combat and other extreme events typically disrupt a trauma survivor’s ability to regulate their emotions, memories, thoughts and behaviours, often leading to difficulties in coping with life. Some go on to develop serious dissociative, posttraumatic and trauma-related disorders. However, the aftermath of trauma may paradoxically facilitate an adaptive phenomenon of posttraumatic growth, if the survivor is given an opportunity to understand the emotions and sensations related to their experiences, recognise the unique manifestations of their symptoms, redefine the meaning of their individual trauma narrative and begin the complex process of psychological reintegration. I propose that engaging with animation might help a survivor move towards posttraumatic growth.

Central to my research is the concept of metamorphosis. In myth, shamanic ritual, literature and visual art, tales of metamorphosis describe protean themes of dissolution, transmogrification and physical and psychic regeneration. I will examine these narratives, looking at how they might map onto clinical definitions of trauma-related psychiatric disorders, and questioning whether dissociative and posttraumatic experiences could be conceived as part of a process of metamorphic transformation, holding out the possibility of eventual relief from suffering and posttraumatic growth.

My hypothesis is that animation has the capacity to function as a form of moving art therapy. It may be possible to creatively reflect upon trauma histories through animation techniques that carefully invoke mnemonic representations and somatic responses. The practice of animation requires an engagement with specific systemic and semiotic patterns of thinking which could be therapeutic for survivors. The degree of personal control that an animator has over the medium might also help those whose sense of autonomy and bodily integrity has been shattered by abuse or violence. Animation’s frame-by-frame nature facilitates idiosyncratic expression over a considerable period of time. This may reveal how the animator views the world and experiences their physical body, emotional responses and psychological defence mechanisms. Additionally, animation can invoke an almost trance-like state in both animator and viewer. It is possible that cognitive and neurobiological processes involved in the creation and watching of animation are responsible for this effect and have a direct bearing on the medium’s potential for expressing and understanding trauma.  

My methodology includes the development of an ongoing dialogue with animators, artists and other individuals involved in the exploration of psychological trauma, and with clinicians practicing in psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience and associated fields, in order to assess how a range of theories about creativity and trauma relate to my research. I will also engage with therapists using moving image technologies including animation within their practice, examining how facilitation of these techniques enables therapeutic progress.

A written analysis of my findings and recording of the research process through a variety of media will be completed, possibly including audio interviews, poetry, installation, documentary film, animation initiated by group participation and my own experimental animation work.



  • Susan Young
  • MPhil


    School of Communication


    Animation, 2011–

  • Susan Young became interested in animation while studying graphic design at Liverpool Polytechnic. During the Toxteth riots of 1981 she made Thin Blue Lines, a film describing the Liverpool 8 uprising from a personal perspective.

    She continued to focus on animation at the Royal College of Art School of Film and Television, graduating in 1985 with Carnival.

    After leaving the RCA, Young directed commercials, title sequences, music videos and short films, working with artists such as David Byrne (Beleza Tropical: Umbabarauma), the music producer Alan Douglas (Jimi Hendrix: Fire), and record labels including Island Records and Island Visual Arts (Time Will Tell and Island 25 documentary titles).

    Her films, title sequences, music videos and commercials have been screened extensively at international film festivals and on television, and she has regularly been called on to judge films in competition at animation festivals worldwide.

    Young is currently exploring the therapeutic potential of animation in relation to psychological trauma at the Royal College of Art through a practice-based research degree.