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Deborah Shaer Child & Adolescent Therapist - Counsellor

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Art in Therapy

Art plays a crucial role in accessing emotions, and when the young person is open to engaging in the creative element of the therapeutic work, the benefits can be seen in various ways. I have observed in my work with children and adolescents, particularly those who are depressed and anxious, how the use of the arts alongside the therapy and counselling supports their mental wellbeing, emotional regulation and enhances their capacity to think. And by producing a tangible body of work over time, they can see for themselves their own unique therapeutic journey and how it has unfolded.

How can the use of the arts support the therapy and counselling process?

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When we look at depression, for example, we could say that the essence of that person is locked inside a static state of oppression, like a sort of zombie swallowed up and engulfed by deadness where nothing can grow. And movement and aliveness may be seen as metaphorically constricted by the psychological weight of a dense cloak like a shroud. The ability to think, to act and to create is lost in the hopelessness which can lead to despair when one is imprisoned in this lifeless state.

How art can break through the barriers of depressives states

I have worked with so many young people in various depressive states and I know that when they are open, willing and courageous, which many of them are, art can be potent vehicle through which to break through the barriers but in a safe way. It takes patience, consistency and commitment. In my therapy practice when the client is ready to get in contact with the hurt beneath the depression then a spark of life can emerge as a seed, and this allows for growth through the nurturance to happen. Of course the building of trust in the therapeutic relationship is a key factor, but the use of the arts, whether painting, drawing, clay or stories through sandplay or any other creative means, I have found these creative actions to be powerful and non-intrusive ways to engage in the therapeutic process.

The quality of the therapeutic dialogue one of the key components of the work but at times situations and circumstances make it too confronting and not appropriate to approach directly. So the symbolic use of the arts and the metaphors can act as a repository. For example, when anger is an issue, those emotions can be translated into art, whereby action in the movement allows for the depression or anger or arising anger to express what cannot be talked about. The child or young person is given that space to express non-verbally what needs to come and this is witness by the therapist; it is through this interaction where the child is no longer isolated. And with the caring and (hopefully) attuned therapist, their skill will not allow them to cross the boundaries of the artwork and make clichéd comments and judgements, even positive ones. They will honour and respect and be curious and allow the client to talk about what they have created, knowing the value of what has been shared by the child about the content. It is not that aesthetics are not important, but in therapy, ability as far as drawing and painting is not assessed in the usual way but more in terms of child development.

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Art is not just about painting and drawing. It takes many forms such as creating sound and poetry and 3-dimensional figures and movement and breath. The use of the arts is a highly effective healing tool that revitalises and reaches into the dark corners of the psyche where pain and anguish can come out, to be seen explored and released. It also acts as an intermediary where communication becomes easier over time and new emotional language is discovered the through therapy work. All that the child and adolescent discovers and learns in the therapy space can become transferred into their social sphere and significantly enhance the quality of their life, long term. One of the essential elements that informs this work the repair of fragmentation for a more integrated personality, through the therapeutic journey.

Photos by Valerie Titova (digitally enhanced) & Zibik HjLin at Unsplash.

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