Imagine a world where nothing was impossible – there were no limits, no right or wrong. Space, where there was complete freedom to be anything you wanted to be, a place where a line could be called a circle, a tree, was blue, and fishes walked. That’s the safe place where imagination starts, and safety is created for art therapy to take place.

Art therapy with children seeks to tap into their imagination, their creativity, and with the help of a therapist, help them make meaning of their experiences and their emotions.

The number of children and young people in Singapore who are seeking professional help for problems such as depression, relationship issues, bullying and family problems is increasing.

This is not so much a reflection of the prevalence of the issues and problems as it is a reflection that parents, teachers, and children are becoming more aware that they need help and that the stigma around asking for professional help is dissipating.

The increase in the number of children and young people reaching out for help shows that they are aware that there is a problem and they want to change.

Parents and teachers are usually the first ones to notice any behavioural change in a child, and therefore it is important that they know where and who to go to for the child to get help.

Art therapy

Art or creative expression has been used in therapy over the last few decades. Art therapy helps someone express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions about what they are experiencing through visual and tactile means. This is particularly useful when the client has difficulty expressing themselves using words.

How can art therapy help?

Research has shown that art therapy can be beneficial to people of all ages. Art therapy has proven to be particularly beneficial for people who have suffered from mental illness, cognitive and learning disabilities and physical disabilities.

Studies have shown that art therapy can help people who have issues such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance dependency
  • Stress
  • Post traumatic stress
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity
  • Aging and geriatric issues
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Eating disorders
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Family or relationship issues

This is not to say that art therapy is only used for significant issues or problems. Art therapy is also helpful for someone who is going through transitions and changes in life that are challenging.

Art Therapy and working with children

Art therapy has been found to be particularly useful when working with children because they are naturally creative and they learn a lot about the world through physical and tactile interaction with it. Younger children usually do not have the vocabulary or verbal skills to experience themselves fully, so art therapy is an excellent way of allowing them to express themselves without any strain or limitation.

Particularly for children who have gone through traumatic experiences such as abuse, art therapy is an avenue for them to ‘speak without talking’ about things that they are afraid or ashamed to talk about.

This ability to tell their story, whether literal or imaginary, gives them an avenue to release their experiences in a safe, non-threatening environment. This in itself can be quite healing for the child because they feel seen and heard.

Neuropsychological studies have shown that creating art; whether it is a drawing, clay work, painting, collage or construction, can stimulate different sensory centres. Just the act of creating something can help improve mood, sensory integration and calm the body and mind of the child.

What happens during a session?

The purpose of art therapy is to foster self-awareness, reconcile emotional conflicts and personal growth through dialogue about the art piece.

Art is created during the sessions and is used as the focal point of dialogue between the child and the therapist. The therapist does not interpret the art. Instead, he or she asks the child questions so that they can engage in self-exploration and meaning making through dialogue with the therapist over each piece of art.

The therapist might ask questions like, ‘what does that feel like?’ ‘What colour would it be?’

In general, the therapist would usually give the child a prompt to get them started such as asking him or her to draw their favourite place. Once the art piece is completed, the therapist will ask questions to understand the thoughts and feelings it represents. The therapist can also give feedback about what they noticed during the process. Using the feedback received, the therapist will develop a plan to help the child move forward.

Where to go for help

Children who need help usually feel very vulnerable, and therefore it is important that they can feel safe enough to build a relationship with the therapist.

At Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic, we have highly qualified psychiatrists and psychologists who have the knowledge and resources to help your child. We provide a holistic service and support parents and guardians with tools and skills necessary to help the child. Get in touch with us using our contact form or pay us a visit at our clinic.

The Art therapists’ Association Singapore has a list of resources and contact information about art therapy and art therapists in Singapore.

Article by Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic