Curious about Art Therapy? I have been! A huge thanks to Faige Kobre of EduArt 4 Kids for sharing her expertise in today’s post.
Many of us have the vague feeling that art is really good for us. We know it makes us more creative and stuff like that. However, research shows that doing art is not only for creativity but, it actually increases the levels of serotonin in the brain which is what is used to help lift depression. Art also helps people learn to like, accept and control their feelings. Feelings of anger, fear, jealously and aggression.
There is even a whole field that uses art to help children and adults heal from painful and abusive situations. This discipline is called art therapy.
Sometimes when people hear about the healing properties of art therapy they want to understand the differences between art and art therapy.
There is more than one question here though. One question is what is the difference between art and art therapy and the second question is what is the difference between therapy and art therapy.
Art means many things to many people. There is art history, art education, fine art in museums, arts and crafts for kids, crafts for adults and learn to draw classes.
Then there is therapy. The classic form of therapy, is when a trained mental health worker works with people with all sorts of psychological disorders to verbally work through past difficulties and anxieties.
Many years ago it was discovered that painful and traumatic experiences become encoded in peoples minds in the form of images. As a result,art which is an image based discipline, allows people to express these images, confront difficult emotions and help them find resolution for painful episodes in their lives. It helps bring these horrible experiences under their control and then helps them deal with their issues in a much more concrete fashion.
Art also helps deflate tension. Art allows people to get forbidden thoughts and feelings onto paper in a safe manner. Whatever kind of art you make, is socially acceptable and for people that have a hard time verbalizing feelings (like children) art therapy is a lifesaver.
And so was developed the field of art therapy.
What kinds of art do they use for art therapy?
If you are a mom of small children or if you are a teacher of young children, the only art you may have come in contact with, is the standard, typical arts and crafts that so many moms and early childhood programs seem to depend on.
That’s not the kind of art I am talking about. Cookie cutter arts and crafts is actually not only not beneficial, it may even be detrimental to your child’s emotional well being.
The kinds of art used for art therapy is real art. Paint, clay, markers, crayons…. real art. Where kids are given materials and allowed to do with them as they please. In the early childhood arena its called process only art.
Process takes over as the important goal as opposed to the product. Kids need to do art that fits their developmental stage and at young ages they are not ready to be creating the types of crafts that the adults in their lives like to feed them.
Kids learn about the art materials by mushing, tearing, pounding, smelling and experimentation. They need to learn how the materials work before they can actually be expected to “make” anything.
What happens when kids master these different mediums is that they feel competent, increase their self awareness and as a result develop self respect. Art is very healing even when not used as a therapeutic tool.
Can we be our children’s art therapists?
A few years back I received an email from a Dad overseas, who told me that his son was abused and he wanted to do art therapy with him. In order to give him a proper answer I started doing research into art therapy.
I learned some new things. I learned that the training to be an art therapist is intensive. You need to be very well versed in the psychology part of the therapy plus the arts. A trained art therapist knows how to guide their clients properly through the process and to decipher what they are seeing. They know how to combine the modalites of art with the modality of therapy.
As a result, it can be dangerous for us as parents to take on the role of art therapists without proper education. It takes years of training, with lots of supervision and clinical guidance before you can become an art therapist.
Is there any kind of art we can give our children to help them through trauma?
If your child has had real trauma in his/her life like abuse then run, don’t not walk, to get them the help they need. If you can, try to find them a good art therapist.
However, if your child suffers from normal levels of separation anxiety, jealousy of a new baby, grief over the loss of a loved one, distress over a move, some kind of natural disaster like a fire or a flood, and even shows some oppositional defiance and school anxiety, then there are definitely ways you can help alleviate their symptoms through art.
As we said before, good art helps release tension and release depression.
Unfortunately, for any of you clean freaks out there, good art for young children usually means messy art.
Painting is very cathartic and helps lessen tension. Children gain a sense of control of their fears and angers by repeated use of sensory materials like paint.
Good, wet, clay is a wonderful way to release tension and children may very well use the clay instead of their baby sister to pound on. Clay is a great way to reduce aggression.
The more control children are given of the art process, the more they gain a sense of competence that helps discharge the normal, everyday tensions they may have.
Another great way to help children do art that is non messy but, still therapeutic, is to have them make pictures of events they’ve been through and have them dictate to you what to say.
I once taught a little girl who could not stop talking about a robbery she had in her house ,until we sat down and made a book about it. She made pictures and dictated to me what to write. After the book was done, she walked around with it for a week or so and then completely stopped talking about the robbery.
As you can see art can be a very important part of your children’s lives if you can allow it. It may be messy and the messiness may cause you some tension, but just think of the benefits your children will be getting and you may just get over your discomfort with a little mess.
Faigie Kobre is the owner of Edu Art 4 Kids, an art website for parents and teachers teaching the best kinds of art for kids’ development. Now you too can learn the secrets that progressive,professional teachers use, to help your children become better learners, increase their self esteem and inspire amazing creativity through the free report How the wrong crafts can harm your child’s IQ and right kind makes them better learners.