Art of healing Aesthetics and art therapy activities can help young offenders

Bangkok Post : Outlook

Art of healing

Aesthetics and art therapy activities can help young offenders gain a new lease on their lives


The assignment was to create a seal out of a lump of clay. But Pat, a 14-year-old boy, had decided to produce a family of seals. He made seals of different sizes: A big one in the centre, several medium-sized ones near it and some tiny seals on the back of the big, centre animal. “This big figure is the mother seal, and the rest are her children,” explained Pat, a crew-cut boy wearing the mandatory yellow T-shirt and navy-blue pants uniform.

!”Where is the father seal then?” asked a psychologist who was observing the art therapy process in action at the three-day special workshop held inside the compound of the Pathum Thani Provincial Court (Juvenile and Family Section). Pat grinned, “He ran away with another woman.” Chuckling, he looked at the questioner. “He is irresponsible.”


A lull followed as Pat continued perfecting his sculptures, while psychologists, social workers and court officials jotted down notes.

Pat’s answer may provide an important clue that could help authorities improve the process aimed at healing him and fellow detainees while they are in the remand home, so that, hopefully, they will never be sent here again.

Works from the art therapy process reveal and heal the inside worlds of young offenders _ their yearning for love and understanding, their lack of problem solving skills and hope for the new chapter of life.

!”The art therapy process helps uncover the complex nature of the youngsters’ hearts, where the problems lie,” said Sabine de Raaf, an art therapist from the Netherlands.

“Unless we are able to learn the roots of what brought them here to this detention centre, we cannot find ways to help them,” she added.

Sabine offered art therapy sessions to young offenders at the Pathum Thani Provincial Court (Juvenile and Family Section) during the five months that she was a volunteer teaching at Tridhakasa School.

!Young offenders and the crimes that they commit reflect social ills, said Kornkanya Suwanpanich, chief judge of the Pathum Thani Provincial Court (Juvenile and Family Section).

!”Most of these youngsters are from poor and broken families. Their parents and guardians are busy making ends meet, thus having little time for their kids to guide them through the maze of right and wrong,” she said. Many suffer from abuse by family members.

The other culprits, the chief judge pointed out, are consumerism values in society and irresponsible media.

The ability to handle the black marks on their pictures reflects the youngsters’ ability to deal with difficulties in real life.

In the left picture, the black mark is bolded and separated from other colours, while the right picture shows the ability of youngsters who can turn the black line into something funny, making it part of the whole picture.

!”Many young people steal because they want to be accepted in society. They want to have the brand-name cellphones and to wear the fashionable clothes splashed in the media and advertisements,” added Kornkanya.

The situation seems worsen every year.

Divorce rates and family-related lawsuits are on the rise. Last year, there were 915 new cases in the Juvenile and Family Court, 200 more than the number five years ago.

!The most common crimes that result in 10- to 18-year-old youths being sent to remand homes are theft, violent and brutal rows, sexual offences, online and Internet addiction, gambling, drug abuse and truancy.

Punishment is not the cure for the rising crime rate among the young.

“If we want to help these young offenders, we need to change our attitude,” said Usa Thanomphongphan, director and founder of Tridhaksa School, who initiated the art therapy project for youth in correctional institutes.

“There are no evil or bad people in this world. They are just weak people who cannot get through life’s temptations and challenges. They need empowerment.”

Sabine de Raff, art therapist from the Netherlands: “Art therapy provides processes to help us find our natural healing powers.”

“Humans are creative beings. We can always create and re-create our life. If people believe in their own potential, they can, and will, change for the better,” said Usa.

In a “give and take” activity, art therapist Sabine asked each of the boys to draw an outward spiral on a small sheet of paper and an inward spiral on another small sheet of paper. Then she asked them to write inside the first spiral what they wanted to give to the world and, inside the other spiral, what they want to receive from the world.

!The aggressive, ignorant-looking boys wrote almost in unison: “Love, warmth, hugging, caring, intimacy, happiness, flowers and sincerity” inside both spirals.

It is this evidence that convinces her that these boys can be healed and become good citizens in society.

“Art process activities help them to reach out with their hearts and feelings,” said Sabine.

Continued here:

6 responses to “Art of healing Aesthetics and art therapy activities can help young offenders

  1. Thank you for your ideas. I am due to start work with this client group and am therefore grateful for any help.

  2. Roberta Shoemaker-Beal, MFA, ATR-BC

    Thank you for posting this excellent article…

    I work with troubled teens who respond well to art therapy interventions, and the building of what I call “creative active problem solving skills”…[CAPS]. This teaching, to these otehrwise lost teens, encourages them to make what I call “the creativity shift,” a shift away from destructive adn self-destructive behaviors. The kids I have worked with seemed hungry to learn these skills……. I love to do this work for it make such a difference…..

    If I can share any of my writings on this topic here on this website, let me know… I will be happy to help……… I haven ot web site yet….

    Thanks, for you good work…


    art therapist who loves working with kids…..

  3. hi francine,
    what a wonderful and substantial blog you have here. thank you so much for this article, and for so much more.
    articles like this validate our work and our belief that each person has in himself the precious and bright wisdom that leads to wholeness.

    best regards!

  4. Hello!
    I was surprised and so happy to find the article here that is written about me. And to read those wonderful comments. I feel so blessed!
    Thank you! If you ever want a copy of the whole article again please contact me – it is no longer online at the Bangkok Post but I copy-paste it to Word. Take care and happy holidays! Sabine from the Netherlands

  5. Welcome to your journey of discovery. Many of us experience a sense of discontent that ushers us into a state of searching and questioning. Seekers and teachers of many traditions have spoken and written about this call to awaken to a larger reality and our relationship to it. Visit Us at

  6. what is therapy activity of society????
    how is Proces therapy activity of society???

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