Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Let your child's art do the talking!

When I tell people that I am an art therapist, more often than not I get a puzzled look followed by the now familiar question “What does that mean? Do you teach art?”. By now I should be miffed by this recurrent inquiry, but I am not because I get another opportunity to talk about my favourite subject. Moreover, every time I talk about it, I realize what an amazing thing it is to be able to achieve mental well-being through art making even if you have no artistic skills. That is why art therapy is for everyone from a child who can make marks on paper to an elderly person who may not be able to do so due to old age or illness.

All individuals with any level of ability, emotional or mental need or desire for mental well-being can do art therapy. It can be done individually, as a family and in groups. The only prerequisite is the will to discover, heal and learn with a trained art therapist who is there to guide you through the process of art-making and healing.

I work with children and adolescents with diverse needs. Some may have developmental differences, some are experiencing emotional ups and downs, others may have familial problems, issues at school or in some cases serious mental health concerns. An art therapist can address the individual needs of each child by tailoring the session specifically to them.

When I work with a child with autism, I am not only concerned with their emotional well- being, but I am also aware of their sensory needs. It is not possible to focus on the mental health of a child who is not well regulated. Therefore, I use art materials to induce sensory modulation alongside the emotional work that is required. Engaging with art materials allows the child an opportunity to achieve sensory regulation as well as provides them with an opening for communication and expression. For a non-verbal child or one who has difficulty communicating this can often be a liberating experience.

Sometimes I get a defiant teenager who is aggressive at home and unhappy at school. The parents are at a loss because their child will not talk to the school counsellor or the talk therapist. They come for art therapy as their last resort. I tell them “the good news is, that your child does not necessarily have to talk in the session”. All they need to do is be present and the rest usually follows. The child who may be reluctant to make art, in the beginning, is usually drawn to art materials and will eventually start engaging with them and the therapist. Sometimes, if there are familial issues, the parents or parent will be asked to join in the sessions. Once again, a conversation may not be necessary as the artwork can do the talking.

It is the process of art making that lies at the core of the art therapy approach. The art product is not judged for aesthetic quality; there is no right or wrong you can do. The art therapist provides the safety and containment needed to confront difficult and sometimes very painful emotions. Art making can tap into the innermost aspects of the psyche that words may not have access to. Children especially, cannot be expected to know why they are feeling depressed or angry or defiant. However, the images they make can tell us pretty much what is going on.