As discussed in the section ‘Artwork therapy’, the therapeutic use of art can be particularly useful when working with people with intellectual disability who have difficulty with verbal communication. It is a very effective way of concretising a person’s hidden and often abstract thoughts and beliefs about themselves and their life experiences.
If a client identifies that they are feeling sad and upset today, a counsellor could use art to help the client represent how they are feeling. For example: ask the client to select a colour that represents how they feel. Ask the client to draw a picture of a sad person, or what being sad looks like. Then choose another colour and draw some of the things that have made the client unhappy. Ask the client to choose colours to represent positive and protective feelings, such as feelings of safety. Ask them to draw some safety around the initial drawing of being unhappy.
These questions may help to promote discussion about the artwork:
- What has made this person unhappy?
- When you look at this unhappy person, what word would you use to describe them? (Encourage the client to add words to the page.)
- Can you talk about what you have drawn? (Ask specific questions if necessary.)
- What does safety look like?
- What does this person need? What would you like to give them to help them? (Encourage the client to draw those things in.)
- How do you think this person might be feeling now?
The client’s artwork is their own creation, so it should be theirs to keep at the end of each session. However, it is useful for the counsellor to record the drawings in some way – either by taking a photograph or recording a written description – so the client and counsellor can reflect on drawing at a later time.
In the example below, a group was asked to make dream-catchers. The group discussed how dream catchers can stop bad dreams. But they can also catch good dreams. One of the women in the group decided hers would be a ‘wish-catcher’. The woman put the word ‘family’ suspended in her dream catcher as a way to represent her wish for her family to be together. This exercise sparked off further conversations about what her vision for a happy family would be.