Thursday, May 12, 2016

More powerful than the bully!

Tia was a 13-year-old girl and Leo an 8-year-old boy. Both had autism and came together once a week for art therapy. Their relationship had come a long way in that they were able to work together on the same piece of paper in their own distinctive styles which was not the case when they first began. Eventually, they completed each others' work, crossed boundaries that were at first rigid and guarded, exchanging comments and sharing stories.

Slowly the dynamics of this little art therapy dyad managed to open up the fiercely protected emotional world of Tia and Leo whose artwork began to shift from the literal to the metaphorical. Individuals with ASD find it difficult to express emotions due to the abstract nature of feelings. Masters of literal representation, when it comes to symbolic expression, they can be extremely challenged.

In one particular session, both Tia and Leo were given a directive to draw each other. The goal was to encourage thinking about the other, beyond the self. After they completed their artwork, both children were asked to talk about their images. The conversation led to individual likes and dislikes and Tia shared that she hated was being bullied in school. She explained that she was pushed around by boys in her class who called her 'lazy'. Spurred on by Tia's sharing, Leo, who was usually very defensive and emotionally reserved, declared that he too disliked being bullied in school and spoke about his experiences. 

Tia and Leo's artwork

The above disclosure from both children led to the golden opportunity to express and address a fear-inducing occurrence in their lives. At times even though circumstances may not change, our perception of the circumstances, how we internalise and assimilate them in our memories can change. Hence, Tia and Leo were asked to draw the bullies, giving them a tangible form within the safety of the art therapy room. Both children made images of their respective bullies (see figure) and were then asked to contain the bullies within boundaries. The idea was to literally and symbolically imprison the bullies within the boundaries and take away their power. As the image shows, Tia and Leo drew substantial walls around their bullies, pointing out to each other where the walls needed reinforcement. 

The session was a wonderful illustration of how joint art therapy sessions encourage open sharing and mutual support between children. The artwork acts as a buffer to process difficult and threatening emotional content while the therapist provides the containment and direction required for transformation and growth. 


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