A day in the life of an art therapist

I work in a learning centre for students aged eight to 17 who have generally been excluded from mainstream education.They have a broad range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Young hands fingerpaintingI arrive at about 8.30am and will go straight into a morning briefing with teachers and other professionals working in the school.These are essential meetings where I learn what’s been going on with each individual student and agree a strategy for managing their needs. I see the children once a week, so this is a vital opportunity for me to gain insight and know what has been happening since I saw them last.

Helping children understand themselves

At 9am I’ll start my first session of the day. I prepare the room beforehand, providing a variety of art materials and removing all unnecessary items of furniture based on the individual's needs and preferences. The children and young people use art materials as an alternative means of communication and they learn to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. Over time, we work through how these issues are affecting their behaviour and impacting on those around them. Working with a young person over an extended period of time helps them to develop a safe and trusting relationship with me. Through this relationship they are able to explore their difficulties and we are able to work together in identifying solutions.

My aim is to help them learn ways of managing their emotions and expressing themselves in a more positive way. When the first session is over I tidy things away, write up progress notes and then prepare the room again. In the morning there is time for one more individual session at 11am, which follows the same pattern. Between 12 noon and 2pm I will catch up with staff to discuss individual cases. I build in some time for lunch and completing paperwork.

Unlocking natural creativity

Young girl paintingIn the case of group sessions, it takes longer to set up and I work with another member of staff. This helps to ensure the children are getting all the attention they need. Beforehand, I have a briefing with the staff member on the needs of the students attending to ensure that we are both fully prepared. Groups allow us to extend art therapy to more children, but it has to be with children who are able to enage with the art materials alongside their peers.

School ends at 3.30pm. After school finishes, I have a debrief with other staff where we review the progress of each student. I contribute to an overall behaviour score for each child based on how they’ve been in the art therapy session.

Around 5pm I walk home. I find the walk is a good time to reflect on what has happened during the day.

Children are naturally creative beings. I love being part of a child’s journey of change. I feel happy that I help children to trust others, build confidence and learn how to better express their feelings.

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