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Art therapy and poverty

18 December 2017

This study explores art therapy practice with children and young people in areas of multiple deprivation in Scotland...


Poverty can have a detrimental impact on the emotional well-being, educational attainment and future life chances of children and young people (CYP). It is known that poverty can also create several barriers to CYP and families accessing services. Furthermore, structural factors such as spending cuts on public services mean that professionals working with people affected by poverty have to ‘do more with less’. Practitioners could fail to acknowledge the impact of poverty if they have little cultural experience of poverty through their professional discourses and training. This could create a social distance between service-users and practitioners, as well as a misalignment of priorities, which could lead to inappropriate interventions being offered and opportunities missed to tackle the impact of poverty.

This study gathered the views of 10 Art Therapists working in areas of multiple deprivation as determined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) in West Central Scotland. The aim was to examine practitioner’s perspectives on poverty and what they notice about its exploration by CYP in art therapy sessions. The study also considered if art therapists working in areas of multiple deprivation adapted their practice to create a contextualised and flexible service that would address the practical as well as the emotional impact of poverty. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews and analysed using thematic analysis.

Whilst most participants showed an awareness of the difficulties faced by CYP affected by poverty, there was evidence that there were numerous cultural barriers meaning the indicators of poverty could be missed by some practitioners. Despite this, participants were clear on the various ways poverty is explored in sessions by CYP. Some art therapists adapted their practice on occasions to address the practical impact of poverty. However, several art therapists faced structural barriers to being able to tackle poverty. Therefore, the data suggests that cultural and structural barriers made it difficult for practitioners working in areas of multiple deprivation to consistently adapt their practice to create a contextualised and flexible service that fully addresses the emotional and the practical impact of poverty.

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This paper was written by Patricia Watts, Paul Gilfillan and Margaret Hills de Zárate and published in the International Journal of Art Therapy

This paper has been made FREE ACCESS until the end of May 2018.


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