Children and Teenagers (5 -18 yrs)

 

Children and adolescents need to express their feelings, to be heard without interruption, and to try to make sense of the world. Often young people need help in understanding why and how things have happened. They may need guidance and support in growing up. They may need specific strategies to cope with bullies or divorce or injustice or grief or they may need quiet reflective time to process conflict and confusion.

 

As adults, we tend to forget that seemingly small problems (or one’s that we have overcome) can appear to be very big problems for young people eg.

 

"Children love to write messages in wet paint which they can then paint over. This allows them to express all sorts of feelings and wishes in a safe way."

“Children love to write messages in wet paint which they can then paint over. This allows them to express all sorts of feelings and wishes in a safe way.”

  • Being abandoned
  • Being bullied
  • A teacher being nasty
  • Anxiety about exams
  • A new sibling in the family
  • A pet dying
  • A family argument
  • Fear of the dark
  • Bed wetting (enuresis)

 

Moreover many young people will feel the impact of:

 

  • Parental divorce or separation
  • A family bereavement
  • Long-term illness
  • Emotional, physical or sexual abuse

 

This can sometimes lead to quite severe and complex disorders.

 

little girl pic

“This little girl painted a castle with her very own shaped windows. Each member of the family belonged in a different room.”

Art therapy provides the time and space to give appropriate emotional support when parents and carers are unable to do so; even the ‘best’ parent cannot always be the ‘best’ therapist for their child. Most young people enjoy painting and drawing in a relaxed atmosphere where there is no competition or expectation to produce a ‘pretty picture’. In this environment young people can talk spontaneously about their lives and can benefit from having their own special and private place to do this.

 

My approach is client-led and is pitched at the appropriate emotional and cognitive level of the young person. In the work we try to find a balance between creative freedom and reflection, autonomy and boundaries, tension and relaxation, sadness and happiness, confidence and humility as the young person learns to self-regulate his or her feelings. As much as possible I will encourage the young person to be autonomous about the art therapy – thinking together about when s/he wants to attend and to develop the creative process as a lifelong useful resource.

 

"Mummy bird flies away"

“Mummy bird flies away”

Adolescents are more independent and yet they often need extra help over difficult periods or crises. Sadly parents can be the last people adolescents feel they can confide in, and the internet has become a toxic as well as resourceful tool for us all. Many relationships are now conducted via the keyboard leading to a different type of social isolation and low confidence. If social skills are unpractised, do we subtly change our values and goalposts to adapt to new social codes, and in doing so is society colluding with a type of fragmentation that is affecting our young people? The generation gaps are perplexing as parents can confuse what is ‘normal’ with what is ‘acceptable’ within their own value system. This creates conflicts that may be explored in the work.

 

Other clients might be young people who have a specific learning difficulty e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, ASD, health issues. They can benefit from art therapy when there are associated problems of low self-esteem or self-assurance. I have a particular interest in autism and early diagnosis of this condition.

 

What happens when you come to Art Therapy?

 

"Smiley happy people"

“Smiley happy people”

We will have an initial conversation about your child on the phone. If there is a complex back history I will need to meet one or both parents or carers to hear more about what has been going on. We will then book an initial session with your child. We will talk briefly at the end of the session and if the young person expresses interest in continuing, and I think art therapy could be helpful, you will be invited to make a short-term commitment for 6 sessions. We will then review and discuss if ongoing work would be useful and possible. Short-term interventions are preferred – approximately 12-24 sessions, though occasionally medium to long-term work is required. This will be reviewed on a regular basis. Please note that art therapy is not an extra-curricular activity therefore if you know you are going away ie school holidays, please let me know at the earliest.

 

Everything that happens in the session is confidential unless I have concerns about your child’s safety, or the safety of others. If requested I will give some generic feedback or parenting pointers when appropriate. The artwork is stored safely in my consulting room and belongs to your child who may choose to take some or all of it away when the art therapy is finished. I will give you guidance on how to respond to the artworks and sessions when we meet.

 

You do not need a referral to make an appointment, I will coordinate with other professionals, eg school teachers, the medical profession and educational psychologists and will write full reports, where appropriate.

 

 

A short case history

Dina (pseudonym), age 6 was referred for art therapy with emotional behavioural problems, most likely exacerbated by a difficult parental separation. Dina felt that she was being manipulated by both parents and became very confused, and soon became a victim of school bullying.

 

Dina spent a lot of time in the art therapy sessions painting an idealised vision of an external world in which we would all be celebrating birthday parties every week. As she learnt to trust the art therapy process, Dina would disclose to me about the mess and confused state of her inner world.

 

In parallel her mother sent me this (edited) note:

 

By the time she was about 3 years old, (Dina) seemed to have developed a phobia for buttons where she would refuse to wear any clothes with buttons, and would not let me wear buttons either. In fact still today, if I, or my sister or my parents, wear clothes with buttons (Dina) will absolutely refuse to come near us till we have changed out of these clothes.
paper jacket

Dina wears her paper shirt with different buttons.

Dina occasionally mentioned the button phobia, but very sparsely and without a clear understanding of its source. As Dina grew in confidence, I was able to start introducing button conversations as well as real buttons into the art therapy. We started by making paper buttons that we sewed onto a paper shirt. Dina loved this exercise and wanted to repeat it often. Then I brought in a selection of real buttons which we sewed onto her clothes. And finally we sewed letter buttons spelling her name onto her spare school shirt.

 

Towards the end of our therapy, Dina’s mother sent me the following note:

 

I wanted to let you know that following today’s session (Dina) has been really buoyant and happy and significantly more confident. After last week’s session it was like I was taking home a different child to the one I brought in to see you, in that she was really happy and seemed to be quite relieved - I guess it must have been quite a release for her to be able to speak freely to an independent adult who was interested in her and listening without judgment. After today’s session, (Dina) was really happy and relaxed in herself. This is really encouraging for me to see. (Dina) has always enjoyed painting/drawing/colouring, and this is why I chose Art Therapy as a medium of healing for her.