"There are no bad children, there are children who don't feel well"
How art therapy groups help to cope with psychological problems
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The parents of the 9-year-old Sasha* brought their son to an art therapy group because Sasha "became aggressive, stopped listening to teachers, often quarreled with children in his class." Parents of the 6-year-old Artem* took him to art therapy so that he could "become calmer."
"There are different reasons to bring children to art therapy, for example, they can experience emotional difficulties, anxiety, aggressiveness, and stress," say psychologists at the Republican Center for Psychological Support of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University (RCPP), who conduct classes using the Serial drawing method. "One of the children lost his mother. Some other children are brought to us after their parents get a divorce."
*the children's names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Art therapy helps to understand what really bothers the child, and how they can be helped. Read more about the method, its results, and about who can come to art therapy at the RCPP.
An alternative way to help
Last year, 2,746 parents applied to the RCPP for psychological support for their children. At the same time, many mothers and fathers are afraid to go to classical family or child psychotherapy.
In order to provide parents with an alternative way to help children and take care of their psychological health, in 2020 UNICEF Belarus, within the Safe Space project, organized a training in the emergency psychological assistance program for children experiencing stress and anxiety. The training was conducted for Belarusian specialists. The Serial drawing method was also on the program.
The training sessions were conducted by international experts who had been using this way of helping children reduce anxiety and stress levels for several years. After the training, the experts continued to support Belarusian psychologists through supervision to make sure the method actually worked. At the meetings, the specialists discussed issues that appeared after the actual classes began.
The method has been used in Belarus for two years and now Belarusian psychologists, who have mastered it well, can share their experience with other specialists. Children all over Belarus will receive more psychological support as art therapy will be available in different regions of Belarus.
Now the Serial drawing method is most actively used by specialists at the RCPP. Since the start of classes in 2021, about 50 children aged 6-9 have taken art therapy.
Serial drawing is an eco-friendly and safe way to work with children and parents. "It is a good way to respond to negative emotions and events," explains Olga Matyukhova, head of the RCPP. "They can't speak about it, but they can express their feelings on paper. We don't ask directly about problems. If it turns out that the problems are serious, we leave the child in therapy."
The Serial drawing and storytelling method is a technique that includes both diagnostics and therapy. With the help of drawings, children express themselves and express negative emotions. The goal of the project is to support children through the creation of a series of drawings and stories. During group lessons each child receives individual support from a teacher-psychologist.
"When children have an "undesirable for adults" behavior, they try to show that they feel bad," says Olga Matyukhova. "When a child behaves aggressively for no apparent reason (according to the parents), they can use art therapy to "talk" to their parents".
Bad behavior does not necessarily mean that the child is bad. There are no bad children, there are children who don't feel well. This means that the basic needs for love and care are not satisfied. Children do not have enough experience to solve the problem themselves. They need the help of an understanding adult.
The minimum number of lessons in the Serial Drawing project is 8. During the lessons the psychologists are trying to create trusting relationships.
"The same place, the same adults, the same materials create a sense of security," says Alesya Zlotskaya, educational psychologist at the RCPP. "It is not enough to have 1 or 2 meetings to create this sense of security. Children are always anxious during the first meeting. Later on they already know the place and that they are treated well. They are never condemned or criticized, even if they get dirty or spill paint. Therefore children relax and can release the retained emotions and feelings that their mind cannot process. The length of a meeting is determined individually."
Each child receives their own art kit: an album, paints, brushes, cups, a palette, pencils. After the full course, they can take the kit home. "It also creates an additional sense of security. The children understand that no one else will use their paints, that they have something that belongs to them and it is safe with the psychologist. It is important for children," says Alesya Zlotskaya. Art kits are provided by UNICEF Belarus.
During the course, parents can consult with psychologists on development and upbringing of children, share their impressions of the changes that take place in their child's life.
Parents of the 9-year-old Sasha say that he has become more organized both at home and at school. As soon as he managed to express his emotions, he became calmer. Although at first the parents were skeptical about the classes.
"I got worried when Sasha drew a cemetery with crosses and zombies, a destroyed house, but later we figured out why it happened, and discussed it with a specialist."
The 6-year-old Artem's mom thought that her son had serious problems before they came to an art therapy lesson. "Now they no longer seem that complicated. I understood things that I hadn't noticed before. Classes brought my son and me closer to each other, creating a common understanding. We started discussing everything. He became interested in drawing. And we went to an art school, a very creative workshop. We had positive impressions from communicating with a psychologist. I received some information about emotions, and now I am working in the right direction."
Sign up for Serial Drawing lessons
Any parents concerned about the state of their child and their psychological health can sign up for Serial Drawing lessons at the RCPP. All lessons are free. You can call +375 17 300 1006 to get the information you need and sign up for the next group session.