I help children express and transform their experiences using Expressive Arts Therapy and play. It is through play that children learn and develop normally. Also, play is the natural way that children tell their stories, express emotions, and process feeling and experiences. Children do not have the verbal maturity to communicate in counselling in the same way that adults can. Non-directive, child-centered expressive arts and play therapy offers the child a chance to express whatever is burdening him in a non-verbal, pre-cognitive way.
The art or play tools that your child chooses will depend on his personality and his needs, and may change many times during a session. I allow the child to choose the way he will express his stories, and follow and guide as he explores the play therapy room.
He may wish to play in the sand tray, a shallow box filled with sand where the child can build up a scene with symbolic figurines. He may use puppets, the dollhouse, or musical instruments to express how he feels or tell his story. Whether the child draws pictures, builds clay figures or does play acting, the medium changes, but the results do not: given a chance to fully express himself, energy is released, he can be seen and heard, and within the safe space of the art studio and the therapeutic relationship, the healing process can begin.
“It is playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” Winnicott
First, my practice is based on a caring, receptive, empathic therapeutic relationship. I consider you to be the expert in your life and life experiences. I can accompany you as a guide or companion and help you see or feel the experiences from a different perspective. Possibly, your inner conflict is too great to put into words. Or, on the other hand, you might have talked and talked about your troubles until you feel like you are going in circles, and still nothing seems to be changing. An arts-based approach to therapy is another way of addressing challenging life issues.
In a typical session, you might start with briefly discussing the issue that first brought you to therapy, or a new conflict that has cropped up and is stressing you out at the moment. We give the problem some space by stepping away into an artistic activity. This allows you to get away from focussing on the pain, and have a chance to play around with materials and images in a nonverbal way. This time allows your unconscious a chance to approach the issue from a completely different angle, while working with the arts helps you express things that you might not know how to express in words. As the therapist, I do not analyze or explain your artwork to you; rather I help you have a relationship to your own artwork and artistic process. After a period of creative work and play, we explore the images that have arisen to see what message, surprise or insight they might bring to you about your life. This is an empowering process of self-discovery.
“The creative arts have an inherent capacity to heal the psyche” Steven Levine
Expressive Arts Therapy in Schools
Over my years of teaching, I have always been acutely aware of how emotional neediness or anxiety can have an impact on children’s learning at school. The challenge of adjusting to big life changes like separation, divorce, or removal to a foster home show up immediately in my students’ behaviour, level of concentration and ability to engage in the subject we are studying. From my perspective as a therapist, I know it is much more important to support the student emotionally and to help them regain a sense of balance in their lives, than to insist that they behave and perform in class as if their world was not falling apart. Yet all teachers have a limit to how much time they can spend with each child while continuing to teach a curriculum and manage a full class of students. When I provide a supportive relationship to a student as an expressive arts therapist, I am able to help him express and transform his painful experiences. The student can become calmer, begin to have shifts in his behaviour, and is more able to tap into some of his creative strengths than when he is left to struggle on his own.
The Expressive Arts Therapy work that I have done with students in an elementary Francophone school has been rich and rewarding. I am available to offer individual sessions of Expressive Arts Therapy in schools in French and English.
Expressive Arts Therapy is frequently used in schools in Canada and abroad. Funding comes from various sources such as the Vancouver Sun “Adopt A School Program”, school Parent Advisory Committees (PACs) or the school district itself. Expressive Arts Therapy colleagues are currently offering this arts-based approach in the Vancouver, Delta and Surrey School Districts.
Healthy Relationships Program
I offer an 10-week psycho-education program for grade 4-7 students on the topic of healthy relationships. This program is for groups of 6-8 students who can benefit from learning more about self-awareness, recognizing and expressing feelings, anger, effective communication, and self-esteem. These 1 ½ hour workshops allow students to bond and develop skills as we explore a different theme each week through group discussions as well as journal writing, painting, drama and other Expressive Arts modalities. The program is available in English and French, and I can facilitate it alone or work as a team with the school counsellor.