Children's Corner: Art Therapy for Children

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Dr. Peg Dunn-Snow
Q & A Forum
Hurricane Art
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Please visit the American Art Therapy Association website at for more information about educational requirements and art therapy training programs.

What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a human service profession which utilizes art media, images, the creative process and partient/client responses to the created art productions as reflections of an individual's development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns and conflicts. Art therapy practice is based on knowledge of human developmental and psychological theories which are implemented in the full spectrum of models of assessment and treatment, including educational, psychodynamic, cognitive, transpersonal and other therapeutic means of reconciling emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behavior, solving problems, reducing anxiety, aiding reality orientation and increasing self-esteem.

Art therapy is an effective treatment for individuals with developmental, medical, educational, social or psychological impairments; and is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational and forensic institutions. Populations of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds are served by art therapists in individual, couples, family and group therapy formats.

Educational, professional and ethical standards for art therapists are regulated by the American Art Therapy Assocation AATA). The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB), an independent organization, grants postgraduate registration (ATR) after reviewing documentation of completion of graduate education and postgraduate supervised experience. The Registered Art Therapist who successfully completes the written examination administered by the ATCB is qualified as Board Certified (ATR-BC), a credential requiring maintenance through continuing education credits.

How did art therapy begin?
Although visual expressions have been basic to humanity throughout history, art therapy did not emerge as a distinct profession until the 1930's. At the beginning of the 20th Century, psychiatrists became interested in the artwork done by patients, and studied it to see if there was a link between the art and the illness of their patients. At this same time, art educators were discovering that the free and sponstaneous art expression of children represented both emotional and symbolic communications. Since then, the profession of art therapy has grown into an effective and important method of communication, assessment and treatment with many populations. (exerpts from Art Therapy: The Profession, a publication of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) 1999).

Art Activities to Address Self-Esteem 

1. Draw a picture that portrays the things you like about yourself.

2.  Draw a picture that shows what you are good at doing.

3.  Draw a picture of the best idea you ever had.

4.  Create a collage about yourself.  Include what your friends admire about you. What makes you special?

5.  Indentify two words that you would like others to say about you. Draw a picture of your associations (symbols) for those words.

6.  What do I want others to know about me ?  Draw a picture illustrating the answer to that question.

7.  Brag about four (4) of your positive qualities in a drawing.

8.  If you could teach the world one thing what would it be?  Draw a picture of this.

9.  Draw a picture of something you recently did to make someone else happy.

10. Draw a picture of something you have done that you are proud of accomplishing.

11.  Draw a picture of something you can do well that you could not do a year ago.

12.  What would a package or label look like and say, if you were the product within ?  Construct such a package. Why would people want to buy you ?

What are some ways that parents can talk about the artwork their children create?

Suggestions for Reviewing Artwork with Children


1. Have children describe the art in their own way.

2. Ask children to tell more about specific parts of the art... describing actual forms, objects, and people.

3. As children to describe the picture in the "first person" (Caution: This may be uncomfortable for some children).

4. If children don't know what something means in the art, an explanation or interpretation can be tentatively suggested. However the interpretation should be checked out with the child's sense of "rightness." If an interpretation falls flat it may be incorrect or merely timed incorrectly.

5. Encourage children to focus on the use of colors. Colors can be used realistically or idiosyncratically and can be used in different ways at different times. (Developmentally young children do not use colors realistically).

6. Watch for cues in children's voice, tone, body posture, expression, and breathing. Use these cues to encourage further exploration or to back off from thoughts and ideas that produce too much anxiety.

7. Help the children own what have been created or said about the art. Gently ask how the art fits with any part of their life.

8. Watch for missing parts or empty spaces. However, be cautious, as we cannot assume that the missing part is always symbolic of the same thinking or feeling in every picture, or even in every picture done by the same child.

9. Sometimes take the picture literally, but sometimes go for the opposite of what is there (Example: Super-heroes reflecting a child's self-confidence or overcompensating for a weak self-image).

10. Have children describe the process of doing the art (Feelings about doing the art before, during, and after completing the work).

11. Let the children draw at their own pace (Trust that the children will draw only what they are ready to discuss).

12. Look for patterns and themes in the artwork.

Note: This list of suggestions was compiled from the writings of many colleagues over the years.


Dr. Peg Dunn-Snow LCAT, LMHC

Children’s Corner: Art Therapy for Children