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Overview and Background of Art Therapy among Children

Art therapy is the psychological application of creative art processes and art media to foster self-expression, strengthen self-esteem, and create coping skills . Art therapy, also known as expressive therapy, is based on the rationale that the creative process is not only healing but also life affirming . Typically, it is difficult for most people to express emotional pain or stressful concerns verbally. Through art therapy, children can explore different challenges they face in their life through art.

Figure 1: Transforming Lives Through Art

Art therapy can be a mixture of painting, colouring, drawing, and sculpting. Some of the materials used include chalk, markers, and paints as illustrated in Figure 1. Art therapy provides numerous advantages over other types of treatment or counselling in the sense that art making and creative process are the natural expressions among children. Children are open and much ready to engage with art therapists. Additionally, art therapists help children express their emotions and develop their self-esteem. Introducing art therapy at a tender age helps children become stronger as they move through adolescence and into adulthood as they can develop the much-needed coping skills.

Art is not only a powerful tool in communication but also an effective tool in therapy. Art visually communicates feeling and thoughts that are painful or overwhelming to express verbally. Creative activities have been used in counselling and psychotherapy as a language and it natural ability to help individuals of various ages explore their beliefs and emotions, reduce stress, and resolve problems . The application of art therapy in therapeutic procedures is dated back to the 1940s. Since then, art therapy has been integrated into the treatment of various illnesses and anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder . It is worth noting that expressive therapy is a hybrid of disciplines based on the field of psychology and art.

The Application of Art Therapy to Ease Disorders

Adjunctive trauma-focused art therapy has proven to be an effective intervention in managing chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD) in children . A recent study published in Arts in Psychotherapy Journal noted that integrating art therapy into a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy reduces panic attacks among patients with panic disorder . It is just one of the many applications of art therapy in easing disorders. Art therapy employs the creative process of developing art to improve an individual's mental, physical, and emotional well-being. In such context, the creative process used to express a child's self artistically can help children develop and manage their feelings and behaviours, improve awareness or self-esteem, and reduce stress.

Art therapy can be used for psychotherapy, healing, rehabilitation, and counselling by therapists. Art therapy is also gaining popularity in easing mental and emotional disorders because it combines psychotherapy with art media and provides hope and comfort to children facing various challenges. The central point is that art therapy enables children to express things that they cannot express verbally. It is advantageous, especially for mentally or emotionally challenged children who often have no possibility to communicate what is inside them.

For children with cancer, autism, eating disorders or mental illnesses, entering the complex realm of medical care introduces them to an alien life . Unfamiliar sounds, words, smell, and medical interventions replace their comfortable life activities shattering their sense of security and trust. Fortunately, at times of upheaval and confusion, such children can find stability by expressing their emotions or feeling through art. Creating artwork reduced stress, offers the comfort of touch, creates the freedom of non-verbal communication and introduces a sense of control. Besides helping children to improve their emotional wellness, art therapy can help in treatment or management of general illness. For example, it can help a child with a cancer diagnosis. Fighting and surviving cancer takes both emotional and physical efforts. Art therapy can enable a child to express cancer-related emotions, in turn helping patients to relieve stress, sadness, and anger. Consequently, when medical treatment is combined with art therapy, children develop various ways to address some of the challenges of serious illnesses.

Difference of the Art Therapy from Traditional Drawing

One of the distinguishing traits of art therapy from traditional earth education is based on the intent . For instance, traditional art education is intended to develop skills, knowledge, and positive attitudes towards art. As a result, emphasis is placed on the final product and not on the individual experience of creating the art product. In fact, art education tends to focus on the art, instead of the person involved in art. Contrastingly, art therapy is intended to treat the person involved in producing art . Typically, the goals of art therapy vary with medical patients. Some of the goals include inviting emotion expression, developing personal imagery, building a sense of control and competence, encouraging interaction between children, as well as encouraging children to represent physical states symbolically. For example, free paintings or drawing are informative, particularly when the children express their choice of subject or the meaning of the artwork. Unlike in tradition art education, a child’s artwork under art therapy assists the therapist to assess the degree of the patient’s impairments and regression or progress in scenarios where there is neurological involvement . For instance, tasks such as copying circles or triangles can be introduced in art therapy when it is formalized as a neurological exam.


Challenges Faced when Working with Kids

Art therapy, also known as expressive or creative arts therapy, encourages children to understand and express their emotions through the creative process and artistic expression. Art therapists work with children to highlight the messages communicated by the children through art, aiding their healing process. Despite being successful in various cases, art therapist faces numerous challenges, especially when handling children. One of the prerequisites of being an effective art therapist is experience with children. Working with an adolescent is challenging in the sense that they face an identity crisis. It follows that an art therapist must have adequate knowledge and skills handling such behaviour. Despite the fact that children are very natural when expressing their feelings through art, their energy is much likely to be diverted to other things, preventing the art therapist from helping the children. The environment in which a child is brought up also creates some challenged for art therapists. For instance, children that spent most of their time in foster care systems often have many emotional and behavioural needs. It forces art therapists to focus on the children’s trauma in their therapy sessions. Other children have experienced homelessness, domestic violence or loss of their loved ones creating a number of challenges for the therapists. Art therapy necessitates working with parents because they form and essential part of the art therapy. The inclusion of parents in the therapy increases the possibilities for children to integrate therapeutic gains in their lives. Consequently, the art therapists must eliminate the gap between children and parents by eliciting symbolic expression or explaining the content of the artworks so that to strengthen the child-parent bond. It is worth highlighting that prior to the initial contact with a child, parents or guardians must be educated about art therapy. Explaining art therapy to parents can be challenging because it demands incompatible combinations of various tasks involving walking through painful scenarios, educating about an approach that is new to the public, proving sincere respect, as well as understanding . In conclusion, an art therapist handling children needs to have a broad knowledge and experience to deal with children from various backgrounds.

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Cases of Successful Application

Art therapy is gaining popularity in its usage as an approach to helping children with developmental, behavioural and emotional problems . It induces developmental changes during physical involvement with art material. Changes are induced through making art objects, as well as through close communication with the art therapist via art objects and transferal of paitients’ feelings into the art images. Art therapy is beneficial during the early development stages of children because their development entails being creative and learning how to express their feelings or emotions. In other words, art therapy provides an opportunity for children to express themselves and be creative. Some of the common goals of art therapy among children are an identification of feelings, sensory awareness, increased self-esteem, and expression of feelings. Coram’s art therapy in the UK offers children the opportunity to not only express, but also to explore their feelings through art . Trained art therapists employ a variety of art therapy materials to help children communicate through art. As noted by Coram , art therapy has enabled children with verbal expression difficulties to communicate through art. In the same context, teachers note that children become progressively receptive to learning activities as art therapy starts to resonate.

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In a case study where CBT and art therapy were observed, the results of the PDA patient indicated lower levels of panic attacks. In the same study, the results of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) case study were marginally significant . One of the obstacles faced by PDA patients is to communicate their concerns verbally. Since panic attacks are random, cognitive restructuring of PDA is relatively difficult to treat compared to other common anxiety disorders. Art therapy enables the same patients to express panic symptoms through art . In that respect, art therapy helps therapists identify the concerns of PDA patients and work on them. The case study proves that art therapy is an effective therapeutic process, if used alongside with CBT .

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Expressive therapy is also valuable for treating eating disorders. At the Centre for Eating Disorders, art therapy has been used successfully as one of the treatment options for people with eating disorders. Art therapists help individuals with eating disorders through the healing process using music, art, and guided imagery. Patients with eating disorders find it very difficult to express their experience verbally. Expressive therapy offers a creative platform for expressing such internal feeling and emotions that are overwhelming or painful to express verbally. Art therapy is a safe way to determine and experience the emotion while instilling confidence in the child's ability to cope with problems. With time, the children develop a sense of trust in their feelings and the ability to discuss them. In the same way, art therapy has also been used to help in addressing fears of body changes and body image distortions.

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