Grief Art Therapy With Children

The Approach

There are two approaches to art therapy. Edith Kramer, an art therapy pioneer, focused on the healing process of art. The Kramer approach regards the process of creating as therapeutic in and of itself. This approach is called Art as Therapy. Margaret Naumberg, the founder of art therapy in the United States, believed that the completed project could be psychoanalyzed. In the Naumberg approach, the symbolism in the art was more valuable than the process. This is called Art Psychotherapy. Grieving children will gain much comfort from art as therapy. The therapist will find that the child's creations are useful analytical tools.

Why it Works

Children love art. Drawing, painting and molding clay are remarkably therapeutic activities. Even when the child cannot tell the therapist what is wrong, he can usually express himself through art. Some children are quite secretive about sharing their feelings but express themselves well artistically. Grieving children can commemorate their feelings artistically. Throughout the treatment, the child can watch the progress of his emotional healing by viewing his own art rather than having his feelings validated by the therapist.

What it Involves

An art therapist can have a grieving child participate in several activities. To get the child to open up, a scribble session may be called for. During the scribble session, the art therapist will tell the child to begin scribbling on a piece of paper and to not let the pen leave the paper until three minutes are up. After three minutes, the art therapist can discuss what the child sees in the piece.

Real art therapy begins once the child is comfortable drawing in front of her therapist. The therapist can have the response to the question, "What will make you feel better?" The drawing might include a picture of the departed loved one returning, or even a picture of the child physically hurting the person, or event that killed her loved one. These responses tell the therapist about the child's true feelings regarding the death. The therapist can also explain that thoughts of violence are not necessarily bad when you lose someone, but that acting out is.

In Memory

It is essential that each piece of artwork the grieving child produces is treated with reverence and care. Each finished piece should be put into a portfolio or a book of feelings. The compilation of artwork the grieving child created will serve as a healthy memorial to his or her growth, as well as to the person he or she lost. Give the compilation of pieces to the child upon termination of therapy. A Chinese proverb proclaims that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is especially true in the case of grieving children. When children experience a loss, they may not have the vocabulary to articulately express their grief or to be consoled. Children can use art therapy to identify, name and draw their feelings related to the death of a loved one. This is true even if the child cannot describe those feelings.