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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Artful encounters with children and youth

Leslie Fletcher

Art therapy is based on the belief that the creative process is intrinsically healing and life-enhancing. It is a process that uses art materials to naturally explore aspects of the self. Internal thoughts and feelings become externalized in paintings, drawings, collage, clay, and constructions using simple art materials. Artistic ability is not important because the emphasis is on expression rather than on skill, although some people wish to develop artistic skills to help them say what they need to more effectively. In talking about the art with the therapist, one learns that the use of colour, depiction of objects, choice of medium and organization of a painting (to name only a few elements) express one’s state of mind and lifestyle. By viewing several pieces of art over time, important themes begin to emerge. Through this process one can gradually become more aware about oneself, relationships and life patterns. For children, talking about their creative experience with an interested adult is nurturing, supportive and encourages safe emotional and verbal expression.

The many benefits of art therapy include: increased self-esteem and confidence, development of healthy coping skills, identifying feelings and areas of concern, learning new skills, releasing stress and tension, and communicating more clearly.

How art therapy works

Art therapy is a gentle, person-centered treatment, responding to individual needs. Some therapists encourage the individual to begin the art session without premeditating the subject matter, believing that working spontaneously accesses uncensored thoughts and feelings that may relate to preverbal childhood experiences, repressed memories, or traumatic events. As language is thought to be an inhibitor in the expression of emotions, art images circumvent language and allow for a direct sensory experience. In other cases, art therapists can be more directive in guiding individuals in the use of materials or subject matter to help them focus on particular issues. Much consideration is given to the person’s developmental level, emotional readiness and coping abilities in planning a directive exercise.

Fletcher, L. (2004) Artful Encounters with Children & Youth. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, Volume 17 Number 1 pp 23-28

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