Monday, July 8, 2013

The Use of Art Therapy with Kids with Attachment Disorders

Art therapy is a natural tool to use with children, and when used with children with attachment disorders or RAD (reactive attachment disorder) it can help to unlock the doors of communication between the child and caregivers.

We have talked about art therapy with RAD kids before, (The Safety Fort: An Art Therapy Intervention for RAD and Trust Disorder kids,  Great Conversations: Letter Writing and Art Therapy with the Introverted RAD Child , Art Therapy with Trouble Foster Kids: Addressing Defiance, Detachment and Behavioral Issues, Helping Foster Kids Understand Change and the Foster Process Through Art) and have encouraged use of the arts with all kids, foster, adopted and your biological kids, especially when trauma is present.

We found this article which discusses the use of art therapy with children with attachment disorders which features some case studies that we thought you might find interesting.  Read on, and consider asking for art therapy with your kids if it is a tool you think might help.

The following is an excerpt from: 

The Use of Art Therapy in Treatment of Attachment Disorder

Marilyn Magnuson MSW, RSW

The Use of Art Therapy in Treatment
Children often have difficulty speaking about their concerns, feelings and past trauma, but they can draw and paint these images through art therapy. Art Therapy makes use of symbols and images as an alternative language.  Memories, emotions, desires and concerns are externalized and released from body tissue through the art.  Once a therapeutic environment has been set, art therapists 'get out of the way' while art makers relax and use their intuition to guide their artmaking.  Art materials such as clay, paints, pastels, and markers provide visceral stimulation, brining body memories to the conscious.  These images from the unconscious reveal hidden aspects of Self.  By tapping into right brain activity through spontaneous artmaking we by-pass the judging, censoring and rationale left-brain.  Art therapy is useful for children who experienced trauma prior to speech, as they do not have words to express the trauma, but the symbolic memories remain in the old brain.  For example, this girl drew her hospital experience as an infant. Through the doorway (left vertical line) she saw the nursing station and the emptiness of the experience (sparse lines), and her separation anxiety (where's mom?).  These Limbic memories do not appear during talk therapy.  

 Family involvement in treatment is essential.  This usually begins with family art therapy assessment exercises, as well tools to uncover intergenerational history (Genogram) and community supports (Ecomap), and a behavioural questionnaire.  The Kinetic Family Drawing (KFD - Landgarten, 1987) requires all family members to draw on the same page without speaking.  They then draw together on a separate page while speaking to one another.  The resulting drawings reveal family dynamics that assist in developing therapeutic interventions (Gil, 1994).   

This six-year old boy, Billy, was brought to therapy for aggression, nightmares, learning problems, and lack of social skills.  Family history disclosed that Mom gave birth at age 16 while living with the father and his parents.  Although they moved out of the grandparent's home when Billy was 2 years old, Billy often stayed with Grandma, and learned to phone Grandma when there were domestic problems.  Grandma then would rescue him.  Mom and dad were emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to Billy.  Mom was overwhelmed and Dad was in need of psychiatric care for depression and anxiety. Billy appeared insecurely attached and was afraid of his parents during stressful times.  Neither Mom nor Dad had a history of secure childhood attachment and found it difficult to nurture him physically and emotionally.

The non-verbal family drawing was started by Grandma who took up much of the space on the page with her sun and tree.  She encapsulated herself and Billy in a tree.  Billy drew dad with rabbit ears, possibly a symbol of dad's ineffectiveness.  He drew mom with hair on her legs and a large razor, possibly symbolizing mom's aggressiveness.  He drew a sun in the upper right corner, copying Grandma, and pushing dad over to the middle of the page next to mom.  It appeared that his desire was for his parents to get along.  Dad drew a sword stuck in a rock, possibly symbolizing his emotional state.  Mom drew herself and dad as separated from the two boys.  

The verbal family drawing began with Grandma taking over mom's space, pushing her out of the activity, possibly symbolizing Grandma's rivalry with Mom, and Mom's disempowerment within the family.  Billy again demonstrated his anger with mom by giving her a bat that resembled a knife.  Dad drew his brother as a humorous character  Grandma drew Grandpa as small and stated he was rather uninvolved.  The black oval object is a garbage can that Billy included, possibly symbolizing his view of family nurturance. Mom was left with no room to draw and solved this problem by placing grass under the feet of each figure.  The family drawings demonstrated triangulation and coalitions.  Grandma appeared to be matriarchal and protective, triangulated with Billy.  The couple relationship appeared to be stressed, and Billy appeared to be both angry and afraid.  Within an hour family dynamics were revealed through art images and the processing of these images.

Read the entire article here:

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