What is Art Therapy?

for children and young people

Early intervention

People who suffer from mental health problems have often had traumatic experiences in their childhood.  Although trauma cannot be easily defined, it is important that they receive appropriate treatment at an early stage to prevent long term ill-effects on their lives: depression, addiction, psychosis, self-harm and violence.  Art Therapy is known to be a gentle and effective tool for treating children’s difficulties, in transforming their views on themselves and the world they live in.

The structure

Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses artwork to assist the communication between a client and the therapist.  It allows both verbal and non-verbal communication happen at the same time.

Art Therapy is held in a confidential space with structured therapeutic boundaries where children can safely explore their emotions.

Why image based therapy?

Traumatic memories are often left in fragments in the brain; they may recur as flashbacks and nightmares.  Children find it hard to verbally articulate these experiences.  Due to the visual-nature of traumatic memories and for children’s mode of thinking, image-based Art Therapy can become a highly effective means for children to access, process and integrate their experiences.

Art work as play

Art Therapy does not require any particular art skills.  It uses art’s element of play, which children are already accustomed to.

Art Therapy utilises children’s innate creativity and fantasy to overcome everyday difficulties.  So instead of feeling left powerless and angry, they can have control over art materials, and safely express their feelings without hurting anyone.  The Art Therapist can gradually guide them to explore their emotions in a non-threatening way.

What can images contain?

Children often suffer from confusing contradictory emotions they cannot put into words (such as love and hate).  Unlike words, an art image can contain these coexistent feelings so that it helps the children to express their emotions easily.

In Art Therapy, a child can create their own symbols to tell their stories.  A symbol expressed in the artwork may contain meanings which are only known to the child.  In this way, children can keep their secrets until they are ready to be shared with the therapist.

While a child is engaged in the play of art making, sometimes their inner feelings also come out in the drawing (without them being aware).  Art Therapists are trained to see these images, however instead of pointing out what they are; the therapist may take time to guide the child to acknowledge them by themselves.

Artwork as record of inner landscape

The artworks created in Art Therapy sessions are kept by the therapist, so the powerful elements contained in the artworks are stored safely, and brought out again in the session.  The child can view them and change them as many times as they like.  The artwork can create a distance from the unbearable realities of the trauma, and allows the child to explore them over time.

Through the development of a trusting relationship with the therapist, the child can gradually find ways of sharing his feelings with the therapist.  Words may be given to these feelings, and further exploration can be achieved through this therapeutic triad: - client, therapist and artwork.

The Setting

Children and young people between age 5 and 18 can have Art Therapy.

  • Art Therapy is held at the studio of Stoke Damerel Parish Centre.
  • Sessions are usually one to one, for 50 minutes, held weekly.
  • A range of art materials is available.

We will have a detailed assessment first (approx. 90 minutes) before starting the therapy.

Children’s confidentiality is respected (except in safeguarding cases).  Their artwork created in the sessions will be kept safely until the last day of their therapy.

Please note that it normally takes about 6 sessions to establish a trusting therapeutic relationship, for a child to feel safe enough to address their concerns freely.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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