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What Happens in an Art Therapy Group for Older Adults?

08 June 2016

Art Therapist, Jenifer O’May tells us about an Older Adults' Art Therapy Group...


Art Therapist, Jenifer O’May tells us about an Older Adults' Art Therapy Group...
The art therapy group is run by myself and another art therapist in a local Sheltered Housing Facility once a week. Initially it was run as a 6 week trial to see if anyone was interested in attending. It began with 4 members but after the 6 week period one member permanently left. The remaining 3 are the core members at present.

Each individual has experienced bereavement of partners and close family members, have chronic health difficulties that in some way impair their everyday life. On occasion their attendance of the group can be affected by ill-health and sometimes hospitalisation. However their collective commitment to the group has been impressive and humbling.
Gradually over the first six months a feeling of belonging, containment and empathy had grown within the group. The myth that they had to have an artistic aptitude was soon dispelled. It was recognised that creating something is central to the group’s function and can promote concentration, fine-motor improvement, enjoyment, pride in work and a focal point to feedback experiences (past and present) and observation.

Each group member has found that there is stimulus and companionship in attending and that the group offers an outlet for expression that they otherwise may not experience.

L is an 89 year old woman who has suffered a series of mini-strokes that have caused minor cognitive difficulties such as word-retrieval. She has found that drawing and ‘mapping’ her childhood home and the surrounding home environment; it has helped her access and verbally share many of her happy memories. This work has continued over several months and is not yet finished. She also has limited fine motor ability as she wears wrist braces, but found that she could use felt tip pens for reduced periods of time to great effect.

Quote: 'When I wake up on a Monday morning I think ‘Oh it’s art therapy day’ it encourages me to get up and come out of the flat. I find I can think back on some lovely memories that otherwise may not happen.'

C is an 80 year old woman who had cancer (successfully treated) and has diabetes. Initially when she joined she thought she couldn’t ‘do anything’ and was depreciatory about her efforts. With support and encouragement she copied some Royal Horticultural Society prints and was surprised that she was able to make a very good likeness and was pleased with her achievement. This image was completed using watercolour crayons.

Quote: 'I find the group really lovely and enjoyable.'

J is a 62 year old man with diabetes. He does not live in the sheltered housing facility and drives independently to the therapy group each week. He has an interest in painting and has won an award for work he had created prior to joining the group. He will often copy an image that he likes but make his own interpretation. He has found that he enjoys the company of the group, and although often quiet will interject with humour or supportive comments. This painting was completed using acrylic paints.

Quote:  'It has helped me greatly and encouraged me to pursue my own work. The group offers company and it gets people involved. I actually look forward to coming every Monday.'

Jenifer O’May, Art Therapist, Northamptonshire. HCPC Registration AS13570.