(CNN) — Arts and crafts are great pastimes, but they can also be used as forms of therapy. Arts, exercise, even crafting, can calm patients who suffer from depression, chronic pain, even PTSD.

Childhood abuse left artist Heather Johnson looking for any way to numb her pain.

“Initially I went and started seeking self medication,” said Johnson. “I used drugs and alcohol and got very much involved in the counter culture scenes.”

The birth of her daughter prompted Johnson to finally reach out for help. The diagnosis: trauma and massive clinical depression. She sought the help of licensed counselor Clementine Malta-Bey, who specializes in trauma recovery.

“Generally speaking, two sort of biggest effects, biggest damages that trauma has on an individual’s physiological trauma are a profound threat to a person’s sense of safety in the world, and a profound sense of powerlessness,” said Dr. Malta-Bey.

To treat those feelings, Dr. Malta-Bey uses a variety of tactics: talk therapy, and art and creativity.

“If we can occupy those brainwaves doing something like repeating it, repeating a gesture of sewing or brush strokes that kind of thing, then it allows for other states of consciousness, other brainwave states, to become more dominant,” she said.

Research shows repetitive motions involved with arts and crafts actually trigger the reward center in the brain, releasing a chemical called dopamine.