Art Therapy for children: play with a purpose

While children can often benefit from counselling to deal with life’s challenges, they may find it difficult or scary to properly express their fears, worries and difficulties. Children are naturally creative and playful, two components which are integral to the art therapy experience, making it a non-threatening and gentle alternative to the talking therapies. As such, the arts therapies or expressive therapies, as they are commonly known, can help to enhance a child’s sense of well-being and assist with children’s learning, behavioural, emotional and social problems.

Arts therapy practice is based on understanding of human development and psychological theories and the presence of creative modalities. The arts therapist offers a secure and safe space for children to process issues while the arts, in a therapeutic context, can facilitate self-expression and exploration.

The Arts Therapies are well researched and integral to many school systems in the US, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Art therapy draws on the use of art and visual or tactile materials and is valuable for all children but especially so for those affected by one or more of the following issues:

  • Grief, loss and trauma
  • Learning and behavioural difficulties
  • Disability
  • Emotional issues and stress
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Difficulty with communication
  • Anxiety

In addition Art Therapy can help increase self-awareness, develop a positive sense of self, assist with cognitive function and help children to develop effective coping skills.

No art knowledge or experience is required as Art Therapy is concerned with the process of facilitating learning and self-understanding through creative expression rather than focusing on the product or technique involved in art making.

Registered arts therapists are members of a professional body and adhere to a code of ethics.

The Science Behind Art Therapy

In the past few decades research in the arts therapies has emerged as the most promising frontier for the profession. Evidence based research is ongoing in all the expressive therapies including (visual) art therapy, drama therapy, movement therapy and music therapy and many professionals in the field have contributed to professional journals and other publications. Art Therapy involves body/mind interaction and development in the field of neuroscience has especially contributed towards raising the profile of the arts therapies with its focus on the links between physiology, emotions and imagery.

The arts therapies can be found in a range of environments including hospitals, educational institutions, community settings, prisons, and in private practice amongst others.

By Mariana Torkington
Counsellor & Registered Arts Therapist
MAAT (Clinical), AThR, ANZATA.

AATA (The American Art Therapy Association)
ANZATA (The Australian and New Zealand Art Therapy Association)
Blesing, M (2007). Behaviour Schools Conference
Dowling, R. (2007). Behaviour Schools Conference