What is art therapy and what applications it can have with children

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Catherine Le Nevez
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What is art therapy and what applications it can have

As part of the prevention and treatment of social, learning and psycho-bodily difficulties, the practice ofClinical Art Therapy it is often suggested and used in school of all levels, as well as with teachers and parents. The approach to the existential difficulties and discomfort of children and young people, in fact, can be easier and the treatment much more effective when they come used expressive and creative tools. But what does Art Therapy consist of? Is it necessary to have artistic skills to approach it? We ask Pezzenati, Art Therapist and Lyceum Academy teacher in our city.

In this article

  • What is Art Therapy
  • History of Art Therapy
  • Cases of application of Art Therapy
  • How Clinical Art Therapy works
  • How a Clinical Art Therapy session takes place
  • How to become an Art Therapist

What is Art Therapy

In the Greek and Roman world it was a widespread belief that the use of different forms of art could favor the release of repressed emotions and the return to a more balanced emotional life. This idea has only strengthened over the centuries: "When you bring out personal experiences in the form of an artistic product - explains the expert - you find yourself in front of ainner image that has become external and visible: this helps you to rework it. The very act of putting something into shape, manipulating any material, mimics conflicts, tensions or abilities in non-verbal language: the final artistic work, thus, through doing, is often more aware of what the person himself felt and she would be able to express. If in psychotherapy we start from the head, here, on the contrary, we start from the "belly" and from the unconscious and unconscious world ».

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History of Art Therapy

Already since the Renaissance for many artists their works were therapeutic tools to express their suffering and alienated world and save themselves from madness. However, it was with the development of psychiatric institutions, in the second half of the nineteenth century, that doctors noticed how much artistic expression benefited patients: "The same psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung contributed to the diffusion of art with a therapeutic function, but in those years the gaze was oriented only to the diagnostic, aesthetic and stylistic analysis of the works ». L'Art Therapy true and proper, which makes the artistic process a therapeutic experience in itself, was born only in second after war thanks to the Austrians of Jewish origin Edith Kramer (1916-2022) and Friedl Dicker Brandeis (1898-1944). The latter worked on the traumas of the children of the Prague ghetto and the Terezin transit camp before dying in Auschwitz and her pupil, who took refuge in the United States and completed her studies in psychology, developed a precise methodological line called "Art as Therapy ".

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Cases of application of Art Therapy

“Art therapy is suitable for children, adolescents, adults and the elderly without any artistic preparation and intervenes in non-verbal terms on the problems and existential situations of the person, even working only on an emotional level ». It is applicable for the following purposes:

  • Estimates. Aimed at subjects without pathologies for the simple purpose of increasing their balance and well-being or preventing any form of psychosocial discomfort such as adolescence.

  • Socio-educational / psycho-pedagogical. For the development of emotional and relational skills from kindergarten, to support the developmental needs of children and adolescents.

  • Therapeutic. With a rehabilitative and psychotherapeutic function, Art Therapy is indicated in all situations in which verbal therapy is not optimal, such as in the case of mental deficit, dementia or psychosis. It is useful for the reworking of oncological situations, bereavement and abandonment and for psychological problems or addictions; or even for the caregivers themselves. Or it can be placed side by side and integrated with a classic psychological therapy.

How Clinical Art Therapy works

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The particular method ofClinical Art Therapy it refers to the intuitions of Kramer: «Ours focus is on the creative process and not only on the finished work. In the creative act, fantasies and energies are mobilized, skills and resources are activated, modes of functioning and adaptive strategies are highlighted, perhaps in the face of the difficulty given by the choice or manipulation of a specific material and its intrinsic characteristics. The double practical and symbolic level goes hand in hand, because not only the work we are creating but also the practices adopted say something about us, as well as promoting a sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy ». Art thus becomes an instrument of awareness e self-knowledge: "Our body, through visual and tactile sensations involved in artistic work, expresses our inner world more authentically than the word itself:" belly ", heart and head travel together, and so this method helps a lot both those who are very rational or vice versa those who struggle to mentalize ».

How a Clinical Art Therapy session takes place

A Clinical Art Therapy meeting can last more than an hour and be individual or group: «The group is a resource in addition because the interactions between the participants and dynamics as leader-gregarious are also observed. Often the children even work together on the same work ». The procedure is as follows:

  1. setting. The Atelier is a welcoming and protected space, designed and prepared to be neutral without stimuli such as paintings or music. «The context recalls the attitude of the therapist who is above all a safe guide and without judgment with which the participant establishes a relationship similar to that with the primary caregiver. It does not offer stimuli and is limited only to responding to requests for help or advice ».

  2. Presentation of materials. Participants are not offered a theme or a technique, but a table set with the tools is presented:

  • TV, sheets and colored and non-colored cards.

  • Control materials. Pencils, markers, hard to blend pastels: «They are called" control "because they are less fluid and difficult to manage, they are mainly chosen when a person is agitated or wants to maintain a certain precision and control in defining details. Filling the spaces with a felt-tip pen, for example, can be a self-regulating gesture ».

  • Expressive materials. Acrylic and non-acrylic tempera colors, watercolors, clay, recycled materials and scraps: "They are materials that allow fluid gestures and greater possibilities of shading and, in the case of clay, they can also have a regressive function: they can be cut and glued, kneaded, beaten , break...".

  1. Tidying up. Putting one's space back after the creative chaos has a strong symbolic meaning of returning to inner order.

  2. Final minutes. Then there is an optional final moment of the verbalization in which whoever wants to comment on his work and how he felt during its realization. «We never give interpretations of the works, because we only observe the person doing the work, what it does when it produces it. The final work can become an object of comparison through the use of artistic metaphor, to bring out possible contents or reflections if the participant opens the dialogue ».

How to become an Art Therapist

The Art Therapist is a professional who falls under Law 4/2022 and carries out his activity in the socio-educational and public or private health sector (CSE Socio-Educational Centers, RSA Social Assistance Residences, CPS Psychosocial Centers, NOA Nuclei Operativi Alcologia, SERT Servizi Drug addiction, UONPIA Neuropsychiatry Units for Infancy and Adolescence, Mental Health Centers, Schools). In Del Paese it isAPIArT (Professional Association of the Paesena Arteterapeuti) to recognize and qualify the different schools, including the Three-year training in Clinical Art Therapy whose diploma allows enrollment in the National Professional Register. Three-year graduates (Psychology, Educational Sciences, Cultural Heritage, Architecture, Arts or Social Health sector) or graduates from the Academy of Fine Arts can access the course, consisting of 1600 hours of training and internships.

  • children art
  • art therapy
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