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The lasting impact of Art Therapy with Children & Young People

05 February 2018

During Children & Young People's Mental Health Week, BAAT Director of Operations & Lead for Children and Young People's Mental Health, Mary Rose Brady shares her reflections on the lasting impact of Art Therapy...

I am sure that I am not the only art therapist who has thought about the many children I have worked with over the years and wondered if art therapy had had any lasting or sustained impact on their lives, beyond the last recorded outcome measure. Additionally, I have often imagined meeting these children as grown-ups and asking what the art therapy sessions had meant to them. 

Strangely enough, only last year I had the highly unusual experience and honour of meeting one of these children.  Out of the blue I was contacted by the Police to verify if I was the Mary Rose Brady who had worked 20 years ago in a particular children's home. A young woman named Sadie who had lived there as a child was asking to see me to support her in a court case relating to her childhood experiences.  

Sadie was 12 when she was taken into Residential Care by the Local Authority as a result of sustained and severe familial abuse and neglect. She was referred for art therapy to "help her come to terms with and recover from her traumatic childhood experiences". We worked together for around 6 months. Sadie had asked for me as being accommodated by the Local Authority for her own safety meant that she had no significant adults in her life who held memories of her as a child at that time.

When I met her again I simultaneously saw the little 12-year-old Sadie within this 32-year-old mother of 4. As a Looked After Child the local Authority had kept Sadie’s files which held a record of her life and included therapy reports with photographs of her art therapy work. Sadie had not opened these and had wanted me to be with her, in the presence of the police so that we could look at the images and piece her story together.
Side by side, we revisited that period in her life; the horrible experiences that had brought her into the care system, the trauma of being taken away from the only home and family that she knew. She sat closer to me as we opened the artwork; a uniquely powerful record of her experiences which held the pain and emotion from that time. The images, produced during her mostly silent and tear-filled sessions were non-verbal disclosures of the traumatic experiences that could not be put into words.  She greeted her images like old friends saying "Ah, there you are”. They were markers of this time, witnesses of her truth. 

After a long period of reflection Sadie smiled at me through the same tear-filled eyes: "I've always wanted to say sorry to you. I remember your kindness and your patience, and I was so rude. I was all over the place. I remember telling you to F*** off. You never did, you were there week after week... and I was so glad, but I've always felt really guilty about it

This meeting with Sadie proved the unique role that the images played in the therapy. It underscored the therapeutic value in being alongside, attempting to provide the conditions to resume the developmental journey that was interrupted and if not mended could hinder a child’s ability to form the trusting relationships that can begin to repair a dreadful start in life. Showing curiosity, believing the child, returning week after week, trying to find a way in to enable them to form the relationships they need to carry them in to the future .

A final word about BAAT strategy 

Though heartening to see the anti-stigmatising Time to Talk campaign become part of our annual "Events" calendar, sadly, children and young people's mental health is not an "Event" which is defined as "a rare occurrence". Three children in every class are now known to be suffering from a diagnosable mental health condition, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

Last year BAAT pledged to get its house in order to support with this deepening and enduring crisis.  We resolved that it was no longer "good enough" to be "good enough", we had to strive for excellence.

To this end we continued to commission innovative, evidence-based CPD courses including Dyadic Parent-Child Art Therapy and Children's Accelerated Trauma Treatment. We developed our first Accredited Children's Course; an intensive Post MA training to ensure that Art Therapists are equipped with the skills they require as part of the Children and Young People's Workforce. Our first cohort of students will graduate in this special week. Finally, we launched our ARTiculate model to enable art therapists to share skills and support school-based colleagues who are already using art to support vulnerable children.

BAAT's strategy is to continue to challenge ourselves to do our part for children and young people.

If you would like to receive notifications on our upcoming courses, please subscribe to the BAAT Facebook Events Calendar here 


Children’s Mental Health Week 2018 (5-11 February)

Highlighting the importance of #BeingOurselves 

Children, young people and adults coming together for #ChildrensMHW to celebrate the unique qualities and strengths in themselves and others.