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On the same page: Shared understanding in primary-school-based art therapy

23 September 2017

Shared understanding of the task undertaken by therapist and client strongly determines whether the outcome is successful. How then, might art therapy help to develop that shared understanding?... Alex McDonald at the 2017 Attachment & the Arts conference


Many school children come to art therapy following very difficult, confusing or traumatic time. The high levels of distress they experience impact on their ability to concentrate, socialise and manage their feelings. Art therapists have increasingly been employed by schools to help pupils cope with social, emotional or mental health needs which interfere with their learning and wellbeing. Evidence shows that the strength of the therapeutic alliance, namely the shared understanding of and investment in the task undertaken by therapist and client, strongly determines whether the outcome of that therapy is successful. How then, might art therapy help to develop that shared understanding?

Alex McDonald will present an approach to primary-school-based art therapy which has been coproduced with children using various art objects to communicate with each other. In this approach artworks, pages of art therapy journals, printed photographs, animations, illustrations, and the written word are used as part of the ostensive communication between child and art therapist. The art forms enable the art therapist to communicate their intention, the child to communicate their experience, and both to develop a shared understanding. Thus, child and art therapist can work together to co-produce effective art therapy sessions to alleviate distress, continually checking that they are on the same page.

Developing a shared understanding of specific approaches amongst art therapists is also important for the development of evidence-based practice. Producing clear descriptions of practice can be challenging. Alex will share the research process by which art therapists Bobby Lloyd, Mary Rose Brady, Neil Springham and Tim Wright participated in the co-writing of the description of this particular approach to primary-school-based art therapy. The group-writing process relied on trusted relationships, social media, role play, video and sound recordings to ensure that, at each stage of the development of the manual, the members of the group were indeed all on the same page. 


Alex McDonald will present at the Attachment & the Arts conference on 6th October 2017

ALEX MCDONALD studied contemporary art practice and the history of art at Goldsmiths’ College, London before qualifying as an Art Therapist from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh in 2005. She has over 12 years of clinical experience working with children and families within the charitable sector and the education system. Over the past 5 years she has worked with the children to co-produce an approach to primary-school-based art therapy under the supervision of Bobby Lloyd. 

Alex has recently completed research on primary-school-based art therapy under the supervision of Dr Nick Drey and is currently in post as an Officer of the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT). She is also a tutor and supervisor on BAAT’s specialist degree course for qualified art therapists in Working with Children in Art Therapy.

Alex is a member of the international faculty of the Oxford College of Arts and Therapies providing e.learning introductions and foundations in art therapy to those who live in areas without access to tuition. Alex is also a member of the Art Therapy Practice Research Network and a peer reviewer for the International Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape and The Arts in Psychotherapy.


For more information and booking please click here

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You can also follow the conference live on 6th October 2017 on Twitter using #AttachmentArts