Adults don’t have all the answers
We are living in a world full of unknowns, especially in this era of Covid- 19. Children are often used to adults providing answers to important questions or helping them find the answers out. The world we live in changes from one day to the next and the adults can no longer provide the answers. The adults are equally as confused, fearful and worried. What is that like for our children and young people that we care for or work with?
On top of that, we add to the mental health stirring pot; health worries, illness, bereavement, isolation, social pressures and the pressure to keep up with academic work. We are living in a world where nothing is certain and children and young people are feeling increasingly anxious, depressed and unable to take in new information, learn or form and maintain positive, meaningful relationships. You might notice more risk-taking behaviour, more hiding in bed or low energy, more volcanic eruptions of anger or fear.
Creative arts for mental health
Our children and young people are becoming wired for stress and survival during important development stages, which can have long term effects on the brain. Neuropathways are developing at this time, so it is important to provide opportunities for healthy neuropathways to develop, too. This is where the creative arts can come in useful. Parents, carers and teachers can help by utilising the creative arts as an effective tool to improve coping mechanisms and self-regulation in times of stress, in order to promote healthy brain development and sense of well-being.
The creative arts are an accessible and inclusive way of maintaining a sense of wellbeing and expressing internal worlds. It’s something that can be done anywhere, with lots of little resources; with Lego, puppets, toys, paint, playdough, clay, collage, crayons, inks, sketch-pencils or biro. Even outdoors, with things found in nature, such as stones, sticks, leaves, shells and pinecones. The creative arts can be a tool to use for self-regulation, self-understanding and self-compassion. It is a hugely powerful way of communicating our experiences, to grow and to heal.
"Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing. The more we understand the relationship between creative expression and healing, the more we will find the healing power in the arts."
-Heather Stuckey US Institute of Health
Play and the arts can be the common language for children. It is a language to be used when the words or means of expression cannot be found; to replay and process feelings, thoughts and experiences. Creative expression has been highly valued by medical professionals, as highlighted by H.L Stuckey from the US Institute of health in the quote above.
What is creative art therapy?
I write this post as an Integrative and Humanistic, Creative Arts Therapist, who works with children and young people, up to the age of 18. I trained at the Institute of Arts in Therapy and Education and am a member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. I have many reasons for client referrals from bereavement and adverse life experiences to general anxiety, trauma, ASC, ADHD, self-harm and school and social pressures.
Using creative art resources
I utilise many resources with my clients, subject to what they choose or bring to sessions. Sometimes, the arts are used as a brief tool to show me something, so I can understand through my client’s eyes. Sometimes the client chooses to engage with the arts through the entire session and even in-between sessions, to help the process.
Creating a safe space to control
In a world where so much is out of our control, space, where we make art and creativity is something we can fully control. When the unplanned does happen in the creative process (and it does) this provides a chance to become aware of those critical voices we have internalised and an opportunity to challenge them, with guidance and holding from the therapist. This can be helpful to build resilience, empowerment and positive self-esteem.
Can creative therapy take place online?
Most therapists have moved to online therapy due to it being the safest way to provide help in times of the pandemic. Protecting our clients is a top priority for all therapists and counsellors. Many of my colleagues ventured into online work sceptically, believing nothing would match their face-to-face work. However, they’ve quickly come round to my way of thinking – understanding that for many children, online therapy is actually more effective and gives just as much scope for creativity.
Online resources create new opportunities
Online art therapy is a great way to help children explore their inner worlds creatively. For example, when I’m working with children using Mable, I’ll use the canvas so we can both simultaneously add characters and backgrounds and discuss how the characters feel in different situations. Sometimes we’ll create virtual worlds, where we can delve into the unconscious and explore metaphor, or we’ll create a virtual sand tray where the child can add characters, scenes and objects.
Online therapy can be very suited to young people, preferable in fact, more than some adults can comprehend. One young person explained;
“Young people are like sea-lions. On land they are clumsy but in the sea, they are safe and free. For young people, the internet is like the sea; a comfort zone.”
Creative arts can reduce stress
The therapy session’s purpose is to be boundaried, safe and confidential, going in-depth into metaphors. The therapist will have extensive training and clinical supervision to provide treatment plans and strategies based on theory. However, practising the arts in the everyday has been found to reduce stress hormones and promote a sense of well-being, which can be a useful tool for parents, carers, and teachers.
5 tips to help you facilitate using the creative arts with your children and young people
1. Remove judgement
How many times have you said or heard; ‘I’m just not good at art’ or ‘I’m rubbish at drawing’? These are the statements I hear most often when introducing the arts to new clients. Some may be daunted by the idea and even resistant because of this thought process.
Where do you think that inner-critic voice comes from? We think this way because even though we are creative beings (we create with our words, our actions, our thoughts, our clothes, our homes, our cooking), creativity becomes assessed at an early age; marked, compared with the person next to us, praised, put on the wall, on the fridge, put in the bin. We have learnt technical drawing, rather than a means of expression and whilst this is a valuable skill to have, we need to unlearn that way of art-making, to practice art for art’s sake.
With clients, I make it really clear in the first session, there will be no judgement in this space, and I reinforce that throughout the therapeutic process. No one will be saying “that’s so great” or “you could do that better”. We internalise the past voices to the point where we start to believe them. If you are told you are bad, you may never try it again. If you are told you are great, you may feel the pressure to always be great.
When I’m working with a child who finds it is difficult to engage with the arts, we’ll use the canvas to play activities such as scribble drawing to a favourite song, using abstract shapes or playing a Pictionary style game. These can all be done easily using a notepad and pen and are a great way for parents to dip their toes in the creative water.
2. Observe and be curious
It takes practice to move away from judgemental statements. What can be helpful for a facilitator, is to observe what the young person is doing and to be curious about it. For example, if a young person is drawing a house, simply say what you notice; “I notice you have 4 windows, a red roof and you have drawn a very lush garden with a big tree”. Then you might be curious about it too; “Who might live in a house like this?”, “Where might this house be?”, “What might happen inside this house?”. If they are playing with playdough, “What does it feel/smell like?”, “What does the colour remind you of?” and observe, “You are really squishing /squeezing /rolling it”.
When things do not go as planned, we can either be critical of ourselves for making a mistake, or we can build resilience and adapt to the unplanned change, looking at how to fix the mistake or just being comfortable in going with it. When your child is distressed, it might help to notice, “I can see how important it is to you to get it just right” and naming the emotion; “I can see how frustrating it is for you that it’s not going as planned”. This will help validate the child’s experience.
When a child or young person shares something with you, it is an honour. Point out how they took the time to do something, how important it was to share it with you and how hard they have tried. These kinds of observations and curiosities will let your young person know that you are interested in what they are doing and are comfortable exploring with them and being present with them.
3. Be present
It can be challenging when we have so many distractions at home or at work, but a minute of face-to-face attunement and interest, without the TV on or phones/tablets around, can be invaluable to strengthen bonds as well as produce dopamine and counterbalance stress hormones in the brain and body. Being present means actively listening to your child or young person when they are sharing or making with you. Understandably, it may not be possible or desirable to be right next to your child or young person throughout the activity and realistically, may not be what your child necessarily wants. Some teens may want to keep their creative processes private.
For younger children, it might be helpful to create alongside them. Not only are the creative arts effective for children but adults too! Co-creating also provides the child with some safety and security. You will be actively modelling how to bounce back from when things go unplanned. Remember not to be outwardly judgemental of your own work, though, as the child will pick up on this. For older children and teens, being present may mean checking in with them before and after the activity to see if they wish to share anything with you. This will let them know you are interested, and they are important.
For older children and teens, being present may mean checking in with them before and after the activity to see if they wish to share anything with you. This will let them know you are interested and they are important.
4. Utilise what you have
When I’m working online the art resources are limitless, but I’m also a school’s counsellor. Often when I start work with a new school I’ll find their resources are low, but basic pencils, crayons, or pens are enough for us to do some great therapeutic work. When these are hard to locate, especially in times of lockdown, there are many free draw and paint programmes online, as well as recipes for playdough, salt dough and (dare I say) slime.
You can find objects and resources all around you. You may have old clothes or fabric to cut, or old toys to create a scene with. A friend recently collected some pebbles from Brighton beach for me and we sat decorating them with acrylic paint pens one evening. Shells are also wonderful to use. You can also find many natural materials out in green spaces, local to you. Using the environmental arts can be done outside or indoors.
There are loads of ideas available online for using the environmental arts. One of my favourites is mandala making, outside, using leaves, stones, ferns, twigs, conkers and anything else you can find. You can make garlands or take bits home to stick and collage. The possibilities are endless if you are resourceful!
5. Have fun and be playful!
As I mentioned, play at any age is an important factor in achieving and maintaining a healthy mind. Play is literally defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, ‘engaging in an activity for enjoyment rather than a serious or practical purpose’. Play can take the form of many expressions, whether it’s singing in the shower, engaging in sport, dancing in the kitchen or hanging out with friends, online or in person.
Engaging in activities purely for enjoyment can be difficult for some people. Those judgemental voices can filter in again – ‘make yourself useful, work hard, don’t be silly, behave yourself etc. When you remove the judgement, you remove the feelings of shame and your child or young person will have the opportunity to engage in a ‘flow state’ – meaning being fully immersed, energized, focused, fully involved and enjoying the activity – which results in self-reward. A flow state can help enhance brain function, raise serotonin levels and help regulate the nervous system.
"Art is our one true global language. It knows no nation, it favours no race and acknowledges no class. It speaks to our need to reveal, heal and transform. It transcends our ordinary lives and lets us imagine what’s possible."
- Try to open up a conversation about what's going on. ...
- Listen and provide emotional support. ...
- If they don't feel able to talk to you at the moment, encourage them to speak to someone else – while reassuring them that you'll still be there. ...
- Try again another day if they don't want to talk.
Mable therapy has really helped our daughter with anxiety and frustration. The therapist gave her tools to help her and us manage a lot of overwhelming emotions which has made everything a lot better. A great service which is highly recommended.How can I help my child with mental health in school? ›
- Understand mental health needs within the school. ...
- Consider having some mental health training. ...
- Educate parents and students on signs and symptoms. ...
- Have a place students can go to talk and a strong open-door policy. ...
- Create a safe, positive school environment. ...
- Encourage good physical health.
- Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
- Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
- Learn new skills. ...
- Give to others. ...
- Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
Being active or creative, learning new things and being a part of a team help connect us with others and are important ways we can all help our mental health. Support and encourage them to explore their interests, whatever they are.How do you stimulate a child mentally? ›
Parents and other caregivers can support healthy brain growth by speaking to, playing with, and caring for their child. Children learn best when parents take turns when talking and playing, and build on their child's skills and interests.What is depleted mother syndrome? ›
We're depleted Over time, mothers become physically, emotionally and mentally drained of nutrients, strength and vitality. Psychologist Rick Hanson coined the phrase “depleted mother syndrome” and emphasizes how important it is to regain the strength we need to be there for ourselves and to manage our care-giving role.What is Teddy Bear therapy? ›
This entails the therapist and the child telling a story about a teddy bear who is facing difficulties similar to those of a child. Relying on play and fantasy, the therapist engages the child in the world without posing a threat, while simultaneously maintaining a human-oriented environment.What is Lego therapy? ›
Lego-based therapy (LeGoff et al 2014) is an evidence based approach that aims to develop social communication skills in autistic children, such as sharing, turn-taking, following rules, using names and problem-solving.What is miracle therapy? ›
What Is the Miracle Question in Solution-Focused Therapy? The miracle question is a popular intervention in Solution-Focused Therapy. It asks the client to imagine and discuss a possible world where problems are removed and issues addressed (Strong & Pyle, 2009).
Talk with them about how you cope with fear, stress or anxiety. Taking deep breaths, exercising, thinking positive thoughts, playing with pets and journaling are all good ways children can cope with the crisis. Whatever works for you might work for them!What activities improves mental health? ›
- Soaking in the bathtub.
- Planning your career.
- Collecting things, such as coins and shells.
- Going for a holiday.
- Recycling old items.
- Going on a date.
- Going to a movie.
I often remind my psychotherapy clients that there are three pillars or foundations of well-being: Sleep. Exercise. Diet. If you are neglecting one or more of these things, chances are you're not feeling very good about yourself.What are three strategies to support healthy mental health? ›
- spend time with friends, loved ones and people you trust.
- talk about or express your feelings regularly.
- reduce alcohol consumption.
- avoid illicit drug use.
- keep active and eat well.
- develop new skills and challenge your capabilities.
- Identify and reduce triggers. ...
- Tune into physical symptoms. ...
- Consider the story you are telling yourself. ...
- Engage in positive self-talk. ...
- Make a choice about how to respond. ...
- Look for positive emotions. ...
- Seek out a therapist.
- Talk to someone you trust. ...
- Look after your physical health. ...
- Do activities that you enjoy. ...
- Steer away from harmful substances. ...
- Take two minutes to focus on the world around you. ...
- Seek professional help.
- Acknowledge when you're not feeling great. Emotional awareness is the process of recognizing and acknowledging your feelings. ...
- Allow yourself to feel your emotions. ...
- Express your emotions in a healthy way. ...
- Understand that both negative and positive emotions are essential.
- keep active.
- take notice.
- keep learning.
- Are usually in a positive mood.
- Listen and follow directions.
- Have close relationships with caregivers and peers.
- Care about friends and show interest in others.
- Recognize, label, and manage their own emotions.
- Understand others' emotions and show empathy.
Play simple board games like 'Snakes and ladders' with your child, or simple card games like 'Go fish' or 'Snap'. Read books and tell jokes and riddles. Encourage stacking and building games or play with cardboard boxes. Do simple jigsaw puzzles and memory games.
- Maximize love, manage stress. Babies pick up on stress, which means moms and dads have to take care of themselves, too. ...
- Talk, sing and point. ...
- Count, group and compare. ...
- Explore through movement and play. ...
- Read and discuss stories.
Simple activities such as playing, reading, and singing with children are core components of early childhood stimulation (ECS). ECS can improve young children's ability to think, communicate, and connect with others .What is an enmeshed mother? ›
In an enmeshed relationship, a mother provides her daughter love and attention but tends to exploit the relationship, fortifying her own needs by living through her daughter. They both grow to depend on this type of arrangement, despite its dysfunction.What is an ambivalent mother? ›
This expression is a clue to what I mean by maternal ambivalence. It's a mother's struggle with all her feelings, including the momentary feelings of hate. By owning all her feelings, her love can betransformed and strengthened.What is a neurotic mother? ›
Parents with high neuroticism scores were characterized by low psychosocial functioning, poor parenting, more dependent stressful life events, and the use of more emotion-focused and less task-oriented coping skills.What is a trauma teddy? ›
Trauma Teddies are small knitted bears distributed to the fire, ambulance, police and other organisations to be given to people in need.Are stuffed animals good for therapy? ›
Stuffed animals can be valuable therapy tools, and stimulate the same soothing biological response we get from touching real animals. In a world in which social distancing is the norm and hugs are hard to come by, it's important to have a friend you can count on.What does hugging a teddy bear do? ›
Many studies have shown that a comfort object like a teddy bear increases emotional wellbeing, coping skills, resilience, self-esteem and sleep because the object triggers self-soothing behaviour.What is brick therapy? ›
Building brick therapy is an evidence-based intervention that has been developed to support pupils to engage in positive interactions with peers. These resources can be used to help adults to run building brick therapy sessions.What is joy therapy? ›
The Joy of Therapy helps kids, teens and adults with scoliosis, posture issues, muscle and joint pain using movement and breath through highly skilled, hands-on and virtual physical therapy to restore strength and decrease pain.
Originally proposed by LeGoff (2004) this intervention employs the use of three key roles 'Engineer' 'Builder' and 'Supplier' to build a model together using LEGO® bricks. This is facilitated by a trained adult, although child led, to allow the children a means of developing their social communication skills.What is the magic wand question in therapy? ›
There are different versions of the Magic Wand Question, but it essentially asks: “Suppose tonight, while you slept, all your problems were solved. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?”How do you use the empty chair method? ›
In the chair, you picture a person with whom you are experiencing conflict. Or, you may picture a part of yourself. Then, you speak to the empty chair. You explain your feelings, thoughts, and understanding of the situation.What is Sonic therapy? ›
Description. Ultrasonic therapy or ultrasonic diathermy products used in physical therapy equipment produce high-frequency sound waves that travel deep into tissue and create gentle therapeutic heat.What strategies can you use to support someone with a mental health condition? ›
- Set time aside with no distractions. ...
- Let them share as much or as little as they want to. ...
- Don't try to diagnose or second guess their feelings. ...
- Keep questions open ended. ...
- Talk about self-care. ...
- Listen carefully to what they tell you. ...
- Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
- For younger children, adult facilitated play with peers.
- Opportunities to practise friendship skills through role play with an adult.
- Adult led turn-taking activities eg board games.
- Peer support.
- Encourage involvement in extra-curricular activities.
These include school and workplace mental health programs, early childhood interventions, social support and community engagement, women empowerment, anti-discrimination programs, and other interventions that address the social determinants of mental health.What are the 12 steps to positive mental health? ›
- keeping physically active.
- eating well.
- drinking in moderation.
- valuing yourself and others.
- talking about your feelings.
- keeping in touch with friends and loved ones.
- caring for others.
- getting involved and making a contribution.
Psychotherapy paired with medication is the most effective way to promote recovery. Examples include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, etc.What are 6 strategies for improving your mental & emotional health? ›
- Get enough sleep. ...
- Exercise regularly. ...
- Build a social support network.
- Set priorities. ...
- Show compassion for yourself. ...
- Schedule regular times for a relaxing activity that uses mindfulness/breathing exercises, like yoga or tai chi.
- Seek help.
- Make Children Question Things. ...
- Provide Opportunities to Express Their Intelligence. ...
- Teach Them Multiple Ways to Solve Every Problem. ...
- Trigger Their Curiosity. ...
- Engage Them With Activity Boxes. ...
- Encourage Children to Read for Pleasure.
- Encourage children with special needs to participate in art activities. ...
- Make sure materials are accessible to all children, including children with special needs. ...
- Adapt art materials to the child's ability. ...
- Applaud the artistic efforts of all children. ...
- Be creative.
“Positive support strategy” means a strengths-based strategy based on an individualized assessment that emphasizes teaching a person productive and self-determined skills or alternative strategies and behaviors without the use of restrictive interventions.