Sunday, July 1, 2012

Coping with Loss using Art Therapy

I have been fascinated with how children’s artwork can be a doorway into their feelings, so I was excited when I came across this article.  Many children have experienced loss, which also includes both divorce and moving in addition to the death of loved ones, and not many know how to cope with such deep emotions.  In school it might translate into “a number of behaviors such as crying, withdrawal, concentration problems, aggression, and violence” (Finn 2003) and other health issues.  The stages of mourning can be difficult and confusing to both children and families, so finding therapeutic ways to help students move through the process with the help of their peers can be one way to ease the pain.
I definitely agree that bibliotherapy and role-playing are helpful strategies to use with children experiencing a variety of emotions and situations they are unfamiliar with.  Knowing that someone else, even just a character from a story, could have similar experiences to them helps children feel more at ease about what they’re going through.  A few years ago I read Rules by Cynthia Lord to my class.  It centers around a character who has a little brother that is autistic and the many ways she teaches him to function in society.  The author does not come right out and explain autism, but students in my class were able to generalize the situations in the book to be more open-minded and patient with a student in our class that struggled with very similar social situations.
I agree that art is an effective means of communicating, particularly for young children who don’t have the vocabulary or ability to express their feelings.  Art is also nonthreatening and many children find it relaxing to sit down with a coloring book or piece of paper without feeling there is an alternative motive – they have complete control.  I thought it was funny that they mentioned counselors could experiment with different art supplies ahead of time so they feel comfortable using it.  I’m not sure how many counselors are afraid of using markers, paint, or clay but maybe they haven’t had many experiences as a child with these or in working with children.
I really liked how the article had a case example that explained what the students did in each session, it helped me to see the themes and activities and created a visual picture.  I enjoyed seeing how the group started, then eased into deeper exploration of feelings.  I also thought it was great that students were given the opportunity to share with the other group members what they had created each time and explain what went into it.  It used a variety of art mediums, from sketching, designing, acting, coloring, writing, music, and painting which would make any child feel successful no matter what artistic skill they believe they hold.  The group painting seemed like such a neat experience, and the take-away box they created in the last session probably meant so much to them.  The evaluation of the sessions was very positive and I almost had tears in my eyes of the children’s quotes of what they most like about being in the group.  I can’t imagine what a positive impact this has had on them!
I definitely would like the opportunity to use art therapy with children in the future, this article was very informative and I enjoyed reading the recent research on art therapy.

Finn, C. A. (2003). Helping students cope with loss: incorporating art into group counseling. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 28 (2), 155-165.

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