Art Therapy as opposed to Art Education generally emphasizes process over the finished art product. We as art therapists are not instructors in artistic skills, but rather facilitators of artistic media to help clients express themselves and project internal issues in order to gain self awareness and insight.
However, recent sessions with a client has put a new light on this for me. I found myself “teaching” more during these past few sessions because of the child’s own request to gain artistic knowledge. I found that ultimately this led to an amazing therapeutic connection as well as a powerful sense of pride and self esteem for the child, who otherwise has a poor self image.
Case Study of Peter
“Peter”, age 11 diagnosed with PDD and ADHD had been coming to me for a while dabbling in clay, paints, drawing and other mediums. Sessions had been either very quiet with very little verbal expression and with him rushing through the art making as if it was something to “get done”. But one day, he came in with a determined look and a photo he wanted to paint. He requested the “better” paints (in the tubes) and canvas boards. At first I thought to myself that this may be too advanced for him and what kinds of reactions will he have if he doesn’t achieve the look he wants to reproduce? But as I set him up I started to incorporate more instructional modeling, but just enough to give him a start. However as he took in the artistic”tips” his affect became more animated and he appeared to become more engaged with me. Ultimately, he asked for more and the session was like a an epiphany for him as he stated “I never thought I could do that”, “Wow, that looks pretty good”, etc…….
As I work with children dealing with a variety of special needs including Autism, ADHD, and other developmental and behavioral issues, I have noticed a shift in how I work. Children with neurological disorders have difficulties staying focused, making connections and expressing their thoughts and feelings verbally. There are many motor and processing skills that are delayed. Some children are aware of them, others are not. With typical children, basic abilities and fundamental art skills will lead to self directed art making. However, children with special needs may lack these foundational skills due to their delays.
As an art therapist, I naturally feel the need to help children achieve mastery in the art making process. However within our scope of practice we are cautioned to not interfere with the way a client creates their art or to personally influence them in their artistic choices. In the case with Peter and other children with a variety of delays, I believe that giving them a level of guidance and direction is extremely beneficial to not only their skill building but to their sense of self and accomplishment. When parents, teachers and other mentors can go with the child’s interests and talents and then build upon them; this is key. They have enough that they are struggling with and it is really great to hear them say with pride,
“Look what I did!”