By Christy Wilkie, LCSW, Therapist
Art is a powerful medium for healing, and if you come into my office, you'll see I do a lot of art with my young clients. Sometimes it's too difficult for kids to access words to describe the hurt they feel inside. Art gives them an alternative way to communicate their thoughts and feelings that is less threatening and easier to access. Art is a way to open up a conversation in a non-confrontational manner.
Example #1: Negative Emotions
"Catcorn" was a creation of one of my younger clients. When children are distressed, they spend most of their time focused on what doesn't feel good, and they put a lot of energy into the negative emotion. We created the Catcorn as a symbol of what she felt like when she was having a good day. She uses this as a reminder of how she wants to feel and as a reminder to use the skills she is building to regulate her emotions. Looking at the picture she created not only gives her a sense of confidence for creating such a majestic creature, but also instills a little lift-me-up when she needs it.
Example #2: Anxiety
"Worry Master with the Laser Eye" was a creation of another child who really struggled to manage his anxiety, which often led to outbursts that looked like anger. By drawing out what worry feels like inside of him and giving it an identity of its own, it helped the child see the anxiety as something outside of him that is manageable. We created moves he can use (emotional regulation skills) to defeat the Worry Master.
Example #3: Anger
I drew the "Green Monster" with a child who wasn't very confident in his art skills, but he liked the idea of drawing his anger. Under his careful direction, I helped him create what anger looks like inside of his body. He feels anger in his stomach, which is represented by the red dot in the middle of the green monster. He feels like the anger is the only thing controlling him, which is why the outside is all wobbly and green and the eyes are goofy. He really wanted to convey that he didn't feel in control of his emotions when the anger was present, and I think he did a pretty outstanding job!
Art can be used as a coping skill and/or way to practice self-care, providing a temporary distraction from the pain and intrusive thoughts many of my kids have going on in their brains. That's invaluable, even if it's just for a moment.
Many times, kids learn they have a strength in art. Identifying something they are really good at can facilitate the building of positive self-esteem and identity.
Art moves, heals, inspires, and connects people.