EACH Family Comms Co-ordinator Rachel Wright met with the EACH Art Therapists Carole Simpson (Milton), Sandra Smith (The Treehouse), and Victoria Tolchard (Quidenham), to ask them about the role of art therapy at EACH. Read on to find out about what art therapy is, how we use art therapy at EACH, and the impact it can have on the children, young people and families using our services…
Art therapy was introduced at EACH in 2014, at the time of the changing model of care, and the introduction of the Wellbeing teams. Art therapy is widely used in adult hospices, and at some children’s hospices across the UK.
All the EACH Art Therapists work mainly in targeted 1-to-1 sessions, in the hospices and in the community. Carole runs an art therapy group at Milton, and the other localities are soon to start exploring art therapy groups. The art therapists also run ‘universal’ groups which are more focussed on using art and creativity to aid wellbeing.
So… what exactly is art therapy?
Art therapy is about giving people space and time to use art materials to process their thoughts and feelings in relation to their circumstances. EACH’s Art Therapists meet with children who receive care from EACH, their parents, grandparents and siblings, and bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. All these people can be feeling a huge range of emotions and facing issues that can be difficult to put into words. Art therapy gives them a voice – a different way of expressing themselves. It can be hard to make sense of what’s happening, and using art materials can help to process feelings and express emotions that might not otherwise have an outlet. The Art Therapist’s role is not to analyse or judge what a person is creating, but to be alongside them and be a witness to their journey. Our Art Therapists often work with people for long periods of time. The development of the relationship between the service user and Art Therapist is key, creating a safe space in which the Art Therapist can witness, hold and contain the difficult feelings and emotions – as well as celebrating achievements and milestones.
An example of this is working with a bereaved young person, during the year after their sibling died. In art therapy sessions they were able to start to process their feelings and experiences through using art materials, and as anniversaries came and went, they gradually began to see that they were able to cope.
Carole, Art Therapist at Milton says: “Working with endings from their beginnings is an important concept for us as Art Therapists, from diagnosis of a condition and into early separation at end of life, as part of the natural process for both the child and family. Processing endings for staff teams can also be supported through the use of non-verbal creative approaches when working with children and their family members.”
The image is key in art therapy – although it’s not at all about creating “good” pictures, but about the process - about how using the art materials makes people feel, and the feelings that are being let out through the process. There is always the opportunity for service users to talk about their feelings, but sometimes the making of the image is enough (all three Art Therapists agreed that staying quiet for a whole session can be one of the hardest things about their job!)
When working with children, young people and siblings, the Art Therapists work closely with other people involved in their care, including teachers and parents. For example, an issue might arise during art therapy sessions, in particular siblings can feel a bit lost, as their parents are understandably very caught up in caring for their brother or sister. The parents may not be aware of this, so letting them know helps enable families to start making steps towards positive change.
As well as targeted 1-to-1 sessions, there can also be the opportunity to use the sensory attributes of art materials on the care floor for children and young people staying for short breaks. This type of work is also carried out by the Play teams, and the Art Therapists aim to complement this work. Sandra has been introducing a way of working with children and young people at The Treehouse who may not understand or share through verbal means, by ‘painting alongside’. An image is made in response to the time spent together with the young person. This encourages a shared moment, as the image develops. A positive response was captured from a young man who chose to watch the image emerge, when on many occasions he may have chosen to have his eyes closed.
A theme that is central to work at EACH is spirituality, and art therapy is no exception. This is not necessarily about religion, but a search for a sense of hope, meaning and purpose via image making. This in turn helps confidence, self-worth and identity. Learning how to live with situations, and learning coping strategies, via the use of images can help families to get through the difficult times.
When asked what was the best thing about the job of Art Therapist at EACH, and the impact art therapy has on service users, the Art Therapists said the following:
Sandra: “It’s a privilege to share the moments of insight that people have during art therapy sessions – and that they feel able to share these moments with us.”
Carole: “Seeing people in times of great personal challenge, and then working with them to reach a place where they can acknowledge what is going on for them, and begin to
re-engage with themselves.”
Victoria: “Changes can be in tiny steps, but the overall outcome can be huge. It’s about developing a relationship, trust and sense of safety, all of which takes time. It’s not a short, sharp treatment – but worked on over time it can lead to deep self understanding, the long-term effects of which can be enormously far-reaching.”