Why Use Art in Therapy with Children?

Written by Teresa WoodruffArt materials

Art is a helpful platform to express feelings: Children are often able to draw out feelings that are difficult to verbalize. Children under 10 years old struggle putting feelings into words. People over 10 years struggle doing so with strong or uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness, guilt and frustration. Through art, they can express the feeling, and the process of expressing feelings is in itself therapeutic.

Art is a way to converse: We use art as a conversation-starter. After a child draws, we ask them to talk to us about the drawing. Art is a natural language of children, so it is often easier to draw out events or feelings than it is to speak about them. Once children have drawn feelings or an event, we can ask children questions about the picture and ask questions about the child himself.

Drawings are less-threatening to talk about: Answering questions about a drawing is often less threatening than talking about one’s own feelings. For example, we may encourage a child to draw himself in his classroom. When he is asked to discuss what makes the boy in his picture sad, the child will often give accurate examples of what makes himself feel sad. Yet, talking about the boy in the picture is easier than talking about himself.

Art as a creative way to teach therapeutic skills: Art interventions (or activities) allow us a fun and exciting way to teach therapy skills. For example, if we are working on frustration management, we often discuss frustration as a volcano. It builds up inside us, layer by layer, if we do not release it appropriately. Through creating a clay volcano and having it “erupt,” children are able to understand how frustration may build inside if they don’t express it appropriately. We are able to talk about negative consequences of “explosions” and encourage appropriate feeling expression. Then, we will create a step-by-step anger plan to implement when the child feels frustrated or angry.

Art to create tangible reminders of therapeutic skills: By using exciting art materials, children are more likely to take ownership in the skill. Frequently looking at their reminder will help the child to implement the skill(s) into his daily life.

Art as a way to practice therapy skills, particularly social skills: If a child is working on joining in or being appropriately assertive, we direct them to practice these skills during structured art activities in a social skills group. We frequently start art activities and coach the children to appropriately ask if they can join in to the project. We focus on nonverbal skills, tone and volume of voice, and give children specific wording to try when they are with peers. In individual sessions, we use art to help children learn to problem-solve and practice positive self-talk, such as: “It’s not a big deal, everyone makes mistakes.”

To learn more about Art Therapy and how it can benefit your child, contact Art It Out Therapy Center at www.artitout.com or call 770-726-9589

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