In the Child Art Therapy class, taught by Lisa Furman, first-year art therapy students learn that one way to strengthen the alliance between therapist and child is by reading books together in sessions. Many children in treatment come from emotionally impoverished backgrounds and often miss out on activities, like book reading, that would facilitate a strong parent/child bond. For this reason, book reading is an easy way to model good parenting to these children while providing a nurturing therapeutic environment. Depending on the content, reading a book can also introduce therapeutic issues in a non-threatening manner. Most importantly, understanding the child’s developmental level is critical in selecting a book that the child will be able to understand.
To help illustrate these ideas, the students in the class have books read to them by the instructor. In the past, the class has heard books such as Are You My Mother, The Velveteen Rabbit and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, among others. These books have important, universal themes such as attachment and separation, self-identity, preadolescent concerns and family issues. After each reading, the class discusses each book and why it would appeal to certain age groups and populations.
The class also discusses how to integrate the book reading into a therapeutic session with a child. Reading a book might provide a diversion in what would otherwise be a long session with a young, impulsive child or it can be a means to introduce book-making as an art therapy directive. Reading a book can also be a great way to provide closure to the end of an intense therapy session.
To synthesize all they have learned, students are asked to make, write and illustrate a children’s book that they then read to the class. They are given ideas for various techniques in book-making, ranging in complexity and skill level. In addition, they must discuss how they would utilize the process with their clients. Without a doubt, the end of semester book presentations are a creative and powerful expression of the student’s learning experience that will become an important technique for working with children in art therapy.
– Lisa Furman, ATR-BC, LCAT