Alex (pseudonym*) is a primary school boy under the care of his maternal grandparents. He was abandoned by his mother and does not recognise nor acknowledge her. Alex had witnessed domestic violence on multiple occasions and was hit accidently in one incident.
The objectives of art therapy aimed to create a safe space for Alex where he could express his feelings and make sense of his experience. Two cycles of art therapy intervention (16 sessions) was conducted by the same art therapist.
In the beginning, Alex often came into the session, quiet and upset about something. Often, he only wanted to use pencils/markers on paper, and created mostly black and white images.
When sharing about his work, he rattled off and was incomprehensible. In one of the sessions, Alex came in and said that he wanted to make guns. He started to design and draw out all the guns he wanted to make (Fig. 1).
With some assistance, he created a gun with modelling clay which looked like the image that he created; he was elated with it and decided not to make any more guns but progressed to make a hot dog and a dice to play (Fig. 2). As he was making these, he started to tell his version of the story with people getting hit and blamed.
On many other sessions, he replicated a similar story-telling
process through artmaking where he would draw people fighting and an evil old lady. He would first use the image as an outlet to release his negative feelings, express his
thoughts, and then go on to create things which made him happy again. He would often leave the sessions lighter and happier.
As the therapeutic relationship and trust was established gradually, Alex opened up to share his inner feelings and thoughts with the art therapist through the artmaking process and artwork.
In one of the clay modelling works, he fixed a baby turtle on top of the mother turtle (Fig. 3a), explaining that she could take him wherever she went. In the following session, he continued to add a security blanket on the baby turtle (Fig. 3b) explaining that the baby would never be detached from his mother and the blanket would keep him safe. Alex expressed himself slowly and clearly.
The artwork acted as a container for Alex’s inner emotion, hope, and need for a secure mother-child relationship which were embodied in the metaphor he used with limited words and the creative process he was engaged with the created objects.
After going through art therapy, his social worker and grandmother observed an overall increased self-confidence and emotional regulation in Alex.
He is proud of his creations and often shows them to his friends, grandmother and the social worker. He started to have better conversations with those around him, gained more friends, and was beginning to speak about his relationships with them.
In conclusion, the creative aspect of art therapy empowered Alex to experience a sense of agency as he could decide the mediums he liked and what to create according to his creativity and feelings.
Through his creative explorations, he was able to make sense of his living experiences and also gained emotional resilience working through the creative transformations.
He felt happy, confident, and empowered after making and seeing his creative expressions.
This helped to improve his self-confidence and social relationships. The non-judgemental space allowed Alex to speak about difficult feelings, release his emotions, and express his thoughts about relationships without being judged.