Art Therapy for Children, Youth and Adults
Art Therapy is an intuitively guided practice that allows you to dialogue with your subconscious mind, rest and relax into a sensory experience, and to explore, create, and play. It is useful for addressing the issues that get us "stuck", and for healing the wounds that lay underneath.
Art Therapy for Children and Youth 7 to 18 years
Art-making is a familiar and accessible way for children and youth to explore their unique and complex feelings and ideas, and to learn and practice coping strategies for day to day stressors and major transitions. The last two years of the pandemic have put enormous strain on family life and children have had to manage many changes, new routines, and frightening information. This is on top of the general anxiety, mood swings, regulation challenges, feelings of grief and loss that come with regular life. Art therapy gives children and youth a place to work out their difficult feelings and return their nervous systems to baseline, helping them to be more regulated and better able to handle daily life. Some examples of reasons why children and youth might attend art therapy are: a major move, a medical diagnosis, divorce, custody changes, separation, changing schools, change in behaviour, change in mood, friendship or sibling difficulties, grief, loss of routines, loss of a pet, past trauma, stress and worry,
What to Expect
Art therapy, just like talk therapy, is a process that involves building a trusting relationship and providing a safe space to work out issues unique to each client. Children and youth, especially those who have experienced trauma, separation, loss, or harm, can take longer to feel safe in a new space and with a new person. This is why therapy is not usually considered a short-term approach. Expect for your child to attend 8-16 art therapy sessions. They can be as frequent as you like. Weekly sessions are preferred when a child or family is going through an acute change or difficult experience. Sessions every two to four weeks help to provide support for on-going challenges or for more general support.
Working with an art therapist begins with an Initial Intake Session, in which I meet with caregivers for roughly 30 minutes by phone or virtually. This is a chance for you to tell me your reasons for seeking therapy, any important background information about your child or your family that you think would be important for me to know about, as well as your goals. After this intake session, we can begin to schedule 60-minute art therapy sessions for your child or teen.
The first 1 to 4 sessions are typically spent building trust and safety with me and in the art space. This can involve trying out art-making with different materials in the studio, playing art-based games, vicarious art-making, talking and asking questions, exploring different materials and ways to create with them, storytelling, etcetera. Some children know exactly what they want to do when they enter the space, and so I typically follow their lead and support them with whatever project they begin. Other children don't know where to start, and so I use directives to get them started with exploring and manipulating the art materials.
The process of art-making as well as the products created in a session, often point to an overall theme. In other words, whatever the child is dealing with on the inside, makes its way to the outside, either in the way in which they create, or in the thing that they create. As a professional art therapist, I am trained to recognize and attune to these subtle themes and to support clients in their process of creation in a way that gives them agency and control, mastery over the materials and the subject matter, possibilities for imagination and problem-solving, and insight into their own process and needs.
This is an incredibly powerful and unique approach to therapy. From the outside looking in, an art therapy session may look like "just" drawing, or "just" painting, or even "just" mucking about. But much more is happening under the surface for the client. Young people often carry around a heavy backpack of difficult feelings, questions, and thoughts. In an art therapy session they can unload their backpack and begin to move in a new way. Having a regular time during the week or in the month to check in with their feelings and work through problems can go a long way in supporting children and teens (and adults too).
Art Therapy for Adults
Many people assume that art therapy is just for kids, but in reality, art therapy is an incredibly powerful modality for individuals of any age. It is also more likely that adults have less opportunities to create for no other purpose other than creation itself, and so choosing art therapy for support can be uniquely healing. Typically, adults seek out art therapy for a variety of concerns such as feelings of anxiety, depression, low motivation, low self-esteem, or a general feeling of "stuck-ness"; as well as for support during major life transitions such as career loss or change, infertility, new parenthood, empty nest and retirement; and also for processing trauma, grief, and loss.
What to Expect
Working with me begins with a 30-minute Initial Intake Session, which takes place over the phone or virtually. This is a chance for you to communicate your reasons for seeking art therapy, as well as any important background information that would be important for me to know about, as well as a discussion about your goals, or how you wish things would be or feel. Following the intake session, we would begin scheduling 60-minute art therapy sessions at a frequency and interval that makes sense for you.
In an art therapy session, we might begin with a check-in to see how you are feeling that day and what is coming up for you. We typically move into some kind of art-making that is either guided by you - you choose the materials, the size, and the way you want to create, or by a directive led by me if you wish. Some people come into their art therapy session knowing exactly what they want to do (throw around some clay! Scribble with crayons! Paint something and then cut it up into pieces!) and others are uncomfortable or intimidated by a room full of art materials and a blank page, and I can help by guiding your art-making until you can recognize your own felt sense about what should come next. At the end of the session, we typically reflect on the work created and on the process. Sometimes the process or the product can reflect the "problem" or the issue that you are facing in your life. Sometimes the process or product has an effect that is soothing or calming. And sometimes the art that is made is an expression of energy or emotion that just needed somewhere to go. Whatever shows up, we work with it in creative ways, and reflect on it and work to integrate it within the session. In general though, the art therapy session is yours, and you get to decide how much you want to verbally process, and how much you want to physically process with art-making. You can decide at the time of the session, based on how you are feeling and what you are needing in that moment.
How Art Therapy "Works"
Art-making with an art therapist is different than making art at home. The therapeutic relationship is one of the most important and beneficial parts of any therapy. In the art therapy relationship, all feelings and ideas and ways of working are valued and accepted. When a meaningful image or object is created and witnessed by an art therapist, a therapeutic experience can be facilitated in order to shift difficult feelings and create resilience against negative life stressors.
When we enter into a space that is safe and supportive, we are able to enter into the “zone” when making art. That is the feeling of being completely engrossed in what you’re doing. We’ve all experienced that in some way, whether it be playing an instrument, or running, or reading. It is in the "zone" that what needs to be expressed or what needs to be healed can be worked out.
The creation of a tangible product is also an important part of the session. During everyday life, and especially in times of stress, we can feel like we have very little power and control (this is especially felt by children and teens). The opportunity to create and to be in charge of the material and our time together is really significant, both developmentally as well as therapeutically. The art itself becomes a container for emotions and experiences. The object or product created can “hold” whatever is expressed. When a feeling or a memory or an experience is too difficult to talk about, the paper can hold it, or the box can contain it, or the clay can represent it. Seeing a feeling or experience in physical form can shift the negative embodied experience from something that is inside, to something that is outside of oneself. Representing a feeling in physical form, separating it from the self, and having it witnessed and accepted by an art therapist, can take away some of the fear, isolation, and power of those negative feelings.
Finally, the process and the product can serve as a visual metaphor. After creating a feeling or experience in a form, we can manipulate the form in order to better understand it, cope with it, or find new ways to relate to it. We can cut parts out, stitch pieces together, fasten it to something, make it stronger, loosen it, turn it over, scrunch it up, put it in a box, destroy it, etc. Manipulating the physical form can change how it feels to us and we can relate to it from a place of agency.
If you have any questions about how art therapy works, or if it would be a good fit for you, please contact me and we can set up a introductory call.