Using Art for Therapy
By Shnieka Johnson, museum educator, curriculum designer and independent consultant specializing in museums and schools
While working as a museum educator, I encountered children of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, learning styles and abilities. My work with a particular group of children classified as having special needs had a lasting affect on my teaching style, and as a person. The small group of middle-school aged children all had varying abilities , including reading levels, comprehension and physical capabilities. Not one profile or level of ability was the same. I knew that a standard lesson plan would be ineffective for the whole group. Instead, I focused on developing a project that would engage the entire group – and making art was it.
As their teachers stored away coats and lunches, I dashed to the resource room and grabbed sketch books and charcoal pencils. I chose three pieces to show the group and then we began to sketch. While the art-making was in progress, everyone in the group was entrenched in creating their own art. At one point, their teachers commented that they had not seen the group so calm. To me, the reason why the group was so calm and focused was clear – sketching is therapeutic, and is used for art therapy.
Art therapy integrates human development and visual art. It is practiced by registered Art Therapists that work with primarily with children, adults and the elderly. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic expression helps people to resolve conflict, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior and reduce stress (in addition to many other benefits).
The process of art-making is therapeutic in itself for children, particularly those that may have experienced illness, trauma, have developmental delays or special needs. Art-making is also used to tap the creative side of the child to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the child. Art making can also increase self-awareness and enhance cognitive abilities of the child being treated.
Once the art is created, the art therapist will often review and interpret the symbolism expressed or communicated in the work. Art therapy can be provided in a group or individual format, depending on the child’s needs. Please remember that this is not for recreation. Those who use art therapy may have various disabilities or diagnoses.
Some of the various disabilities or diagnoses include:
- Behavioral Health
- Refers to overt action; cognition, emotion, temperament and motivation.
- Mental Health
- Refers to the state of emotional well being to meet demands of everyday life.
- Learning Disabilities
- Can include several disorders in which there is difficulty learning in a typical manner.
- Physical Disabilities
- Can be a permanent (or temporary) physical state that prevents typical physical function.
- Medical Issues
- Either prior treatment, existing diagnosis or recurrent illness.
PLEASE NOTE: If you suspect or it has been proven that your child has a disability or special needs remember to keep things in perspective. Your child is influenced by your reaction to a diagnosis. Make sure to do your research so that you are fully aware of the latest research and developments and as always advocate for your child.
Like what you see, here are more posts by Shneika Johnson:
- School Selection: What is the Best Learning Environment for Your Child?
- Arts and Crafts at Home- No Need to Be Scared!
- A for is Art: Mom & Tot Day at the Museum
- Mommy and Me with Paint Make THREE