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How Art Therapy Can Help Children

While children can often benefit from therapy, especially if they have mental health problems or disabilities, they may find it scary or difficult to properly express themselves in a clinical setting. This is particularly true for young children who generally have limited vocabularies and those that don’t speak the primary language in the country where they live. In addition to or in lieu of standard therapy methods, kids can use art to communicating their thoughts and feelings to the adults who want to help them deal with their life challenges.

Art therapy is a psychotherapy wherein patients use art in varying ways. The most common way is to escape from the stress of illness or disability. It is also used as a symbolic language. With the help of the therapist, the child deciphers the meaning of the picture and discusses the underlying issues that inspired the artwork. No matter how it is used, art therapy can be a creative outlet for children struggling with the circumstances of their lives.

How Art Therapy Can Help Children
art-therapy-for-childrenChildren are naturally creative, and it is usually easier for them to draw a picture as opposed to answering questions directly. They may be reluctant or even hostile about discussing certain topics. Creating artwork is a non-threatening venue that allows kids to tackle tough issues in a creative way. Talking to the children about their drawings or paintings and helping them interpret the art can provide therapists with the opening they need to get at the heart of the problems affecting their young patients.

Art therapy can be used to assist children with a number of issues including:

  • Death of a family member or friend
  • Childhood trauma involving physical, mental, or sexual abuse
  • Learning disabilities
  • Emotional issues like fear of abandonment or phobias
  • Improve cognitive abilities
  • Deal with the challenges of serious diseases like cancer
  • Treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia or depression
  • Help children understand and deal with physical disabilities
  • Understand and treat behavioral problems

In addition to these challenges, art therapy can help children relieve stress, increase awareness of self, and develop healthy and effective coping skills. Children of all ages, nationalities, races and cultures can benefit from art therapy. Programs are developed around a child’s strengths and abilities, so the kid can use the medium even if he or she has never picked up a crayon before.

How Does It Work?

The exact process depends a lot on the art therapist, the age of the child, and the problem being treated. In general, art therapists provide kids with age-appropriate art supplies and set them free to express themselves. More often than not, the therapist will give the child a prompt to get them started. For example, he may ask the child to draw a house or favorite food.

After the pictures have been completed, the therapist will begin to question the child about various aspects of the artwork in an effort to understand what the thoughts or feelings it represents. The therapist will then use that feedback to develop an effective treatment program that will help the child move forward.

Treatment may be conducted individually or in a group setting. It may be the primary mode of therapy or secondary to other forms of psychotherapy. Additionally, the therapist may work individually or as part of a clinical team treating the children. Art therapists are typically employed by institutions like hospitals, schools, or mental health facilities. However, quite a few have private practices.

Does It Work?

For many kids, art therapy helps them immensely. However, it is important to remember that every child is different and may not respond the same way to this treatment. Some kids will pour their hearts out on the page while others may require a little more space and time before they open up. This is true even for adults.

The most important thing in a child/therapist relationship is trust. Therefore, it is critical to take time to search for an art therapist that the child can connect with. Pick a professional who has extensive experience treating children with the same or similar issues your child is struggling with. A good place to start is to ask friends or family members for recommendations. Medical and other mental health professionals can also be a good source of referrals. Doing a search on the Internet for art therapists in your area will usually turn up a few names in a pinch.

Don’t be afraid to meet with the therapist first to get a sense of who the person is and how he or she works. Ask about their education and credentials, and only consider those who have the proper licensing and certifications. This will offer some assurance that the person has obtained the education and experience necessary to work in the field.

Entering the Field

There is always a need for qualified mental health professionals who love working with children. Getting into the field, however, can be a little bit of a challenge. The first step is to obtain a master’s degree in art therapy through an accredited educational program from a reputable post-secondary school. This degree can be obtained in one of two ways. One way is to get a degree in a related field such as psychology or counseling and then earn a post-graduate certificate in art therapy. Another way is to enter and complete an art therapy master’s degree program.

Neither option is better than the other. How you achieve the required educational foundation will depend on your career goals, lifestyle, and finances. Going directly for the art therapy master’s degree may be the quickest way to enter the industry, but there are a limited number of colleges and universities that offer this program. Most schools offer general psychology or counseling degrees, but you’ll still have to take courses in art therapy which may extend the length of time you are in school. Additionally, the type of degree you earn will directly affect the number and kind of opportunities that open up to you. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each option and choose the one that best reflects your ambitions.

To practice in the field, many states require art therapists to obtain a license. Certification through the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) may be an acceptable substitute in some cases. It is important to note that both licensing agencies and the AATA may require the applicant to have worked a certain number of hours in the field before the license or credential will be granted. Completing an internship while in school is a good way to gain this experience.

Art therapy can be rewarding for both the children and the therapists helping them. Commitment and persistence is the key to achieving success in the field.