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The Role of Art in Child and Adolescent Group Therapy

Kathryn Fisher, MS, ATR, CGP

In art therapy groups, members create art that reflects the culture of the group. How and why artwork is made can teach us so much about a specific group and its members. This is as true now as it was in ancient cultures. It can give us information that we may otherwise overlook or undervalue. Consider some of the following examples.
In a young adolescent group for children who struggle with peer relationships and understanding of social cues, one of the six members continually tried to throw crayons and markers. Because of his agitated state and his need to throw something, one of the co-therapists suggested that he make a ball. He and a therapist wadded a piece of paper, wound a full roll of masking tape around it, and then played catch. Other members watched and were relieved because he was now busy and there was some predictability about flying objects in the room. One member voiced frustration because of the wasted materials; a discussion unfolded about what is wasteful and what is valuable. Spontaneously, a ritual arose: every week thereafter, a roll of tape was wound around the ball. Eventually everyone participated; even the more sophisticated members asked to hold and feel the ball. One member prided herself in her “densifying” technique, a careful rolling and patting of the ball. The boy who started the ball had a rise in status and was proud of his shared creation. Its form changed from lumpy and crude to spherical and smooth; its weight and power grew; and it began to have increasing importance. Between layers, names were signed and messages were written. One week, when it had grown to the size of a bowling ball, it was given a smiley face, a chair, and dealt into the day’s UNO game. In an impulsive angry moment, it was thrown at a boy; hard and heavy, it caused pain. The group spent the next session discussing all aspects of this moment. The following week the ball was used in a game where the person who held the ball said something about himself or herself. The job of wrapping required two group members every week. Much discussion followed the choosing of partners and the job of wrapping. Tape stretched from one side of the room to the other; hair got caught in the tape. All of these situations required thought and patience on the part of the therapists. The ball came to represent the group; it was something whole and complicated that we had created together. Continued…

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