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Art therapy – helping a child heal
September 14, 2020
Over the past few months and throughout the stringent pandemic restrictions and lockdown, Emerge therapist Jane has been meeting a young boy every week for arts therapy.
As an essential service, Emerge has been able to carry out its vital work in arts therapy, outreach and in the new 24/7 refuge to ensure that children and their mums are supported as they work through trauma associated with family violence.
Oscar* is just one child that Jane has been working with. A typical eight-year-old, Oscar is busy, never sits still, and is always looking for something to do. On the surface, it would be difficult to believe that Oscar has experienced trauma which means he finds it hard to concentrate and trust people.
Jane’s hope is that arts therapy will help Oscar learn how to regulate his feelings so he is able to better manage and is not overwhelmed by them.
Working on a one-on-one basis, Jane and Oscar each week carefully open the art bag which Jane has put together for him and choose what they will do.
“We do a lot of art making such as drawing, clay modelling and painting which is led by Oscar and generally focuses on a theme of his choice,” Jane said.
Animals feature often, with Oscar exploring his strengths and feelings through representation of their qualities.
Coronavirus has meant that Jane has had to adapt many of the therapies she would normally use so that the two remain safe.
“I wear a mask and we always keep the 1.5 metres physical distance. We are also more limited with the materials we can use and have to improvise. For example we can’t use sand therapy so instead we use the figures from the sand tray to create stories.” she said.
Movement is big part of the sessions and helps Oscar feel more grounded in his body. A favourite is where Jane and Oscar take turns making up patterns of circles, squares, bending and stretching and the other follows.
“It is a great way of helping Oscar use patterns to build an internal awareness of both his mind and body,” she said.
Emerge runs one of Victoria’s leading arts therapy programs. It is a deliberate choice of therapy because it is creative and allows children and their mothers to express themselves in a non-threatening environment. The program is based on a trauma informed approach and empirical evidence of what can bring about positive change and healing.
“Many of us see children’s artwork as something to stick on the fridge but for an arts therapist, the artwork offers an opportunity to help a child repattern their nervous system,” Jane said.
Instead of trying to get young children, who often have a limited vocabulary, to talk about how they feel, their art making can be used to help them express and integrate their feelings and experiences.
For an hour each week, Oscar is in a safe space. Bit by bit, he opens his internal world to Jane. The hour though goes fast, and reality returns. He and Jane work together to sanitise the crayons, paints, figurines and clay they have been using and pop them back into his art bag ready for the next week.
*Oscar is not his real name.