16 APRIL 2021

Art Therapy and Its Benefit

by Antonia Kenny

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Picture This!
Introducing Art Therapy and why your child may benefit from it

What is Art Therapy?

Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Clients do not need to have any previous experience or expertise in art; the focus is on the process not the final product. The medium is used to enhance mental health by addressing emotional issues that can be confusing and distressing.

Although influenced by psychoanalysis, Art Therapists have been inspired by theories such as attachment-based psychotherapy and have developed a broad range of client-centred approaches.

What are the benefits of Art Therapy for children with autism?

For people on the autism spectrum, art is the perfect medium to encourage individuals to express themselves and help regulate their emotions. Since children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are visual thinkers, art is a natural way to communicate how they feel, express ideas, process memories and ultimately help shape how they view the world.

Art Therapy employs techniques that facilitate new opportunities for spontaneous verbal interaction but does not rely solely on vocal communication alone for connection. Art Therapy provides a medium that facilitates mutual attunement. A rapport is built through turn taking activities allowing a modelling of back and forth conversational flow, meeting the child where they are as individuals and assisting the building of social relationships at their pace.

How Art Therapy practice has been adapted at Petra’s Place.

At Petra’s Place Art Therapy practice has been specifically adapted to meet the wide ranging needs of the children that attend the centre by employing a combination of kinaesthetic and non-verbal processes within a relational context. It has a primary focus and a firm belief that creating a safe, fun and playful space is fundamental to practice and where our children engage best. It is within building this environment and relationship that children become ready to work on systemic attachment based challenges, behavioural difficulties and emotional expression.

Embedded into this emotional and regulatory framework, concurrently Art Therapy at Petra’s Place is uniquely able to support our children’s capacity to learn new skills. Sessions are individually adapted to support a number of developmental skills by strategically incorporating this learning into natural motivating play and creativity.

What developmental skills are supported during Art Therapy sessions?

Managing sensory issues

Utilising that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in Art Therapy, children are encouraged to explore and experience new sensory input through art materials in a safe and fun filled environment. Touch is a major source of sensory stimulation due to the many nerve ending receptors in our skin. The quality of experience will influence a child’s perception of and reactions to stimuli.

Pre-writing skills

Drawing and painting activities can help develop the fundamental pre-writing skills that children need to develop before they are able to write. These skills contribute to the child’s ability to hold and use a pencil, and the ability to draw, write, copy, and colour.

Impulse control

By promoting and supporting the ability to make a choice or indicate a decision as well as the capacity for turn taking and sharing. Choosing a paint colour and sharing a paint tray for example are good motivators.

Hand-eye coordination

By strengthening dexterity and modelling activities that engage the child’s fine and gross motor skills.

Joint attention

The art object promotes a number of opportunities for joint attention. The creation of artwork especially at the easel is a fantastic 3-point shared gaze opportunity.

Eye contact

Mirroring body language and facial expressions while playing and creating art alongside our children fosters a sense of connection and windows for extended periods of eye contact.

Focus and problem solving

Art making lowers cortisol hormone levels. alleviating stress and anxiety. By quieting the mind this supports the child to be present in the moment creating opportunities for extended periods of focus.

Self-esteem and confidence

Through unconditional positive regard, an art therapist can model acceptance for clients no matter where they are in their development. Reinforcing areas of strength can be helpful in restoring positive self-concept. Engaging in any sort of visual expression, results in the activation of the reward pathway in the brain. Making their own mark or creation promotes a sense of achievement for the child, something for them to be personally proud of. This assists the process of individuation supporting a clearer sense of self that is separate from their parents and others around them.

The Author

Antonia Kenny is an Art Therapist at Petra’s Place. Antonia holds a Masters degree in Art Psychotherapy from Roehampton University and is trained in Children’s Accelerated Trauma Treatment.

Copyright © 2021 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone