Saturday, July 23, 2011

Building Relationship

A couple of recent monkeys building their relationship
Wow! It's practically been a month and I am only now just beginning to have somewhat a sense of routine. With that being said, it is my renewed intent to post each weekend, now that I have a mild grasp on my life and career.

For now, this is what it has been like to be a brandy-newbie art therapist... I still have done very little "theraping," which is probably a good thing for any new staff member. Instead, I have been following people around, going to the 942 different types of meetings, reading my caseload files and beginning to write a report on one of my guys based on past reports and interview with his interim therapist. As of Monday, I am the official real deal therapist: I am running my groups, doing individual sessions and that report is due for me to present (!). In my mind, the best way to take advantage of this semi-down time was to plan future groups, read up on the population and theories of working with them and try to help my guys feel more comfortable with me.

The great thing about this week was the students were on vacation from school and therapy, but the rest of the staff was not, which meant it was expected I go to their residence a few hours this week and just hang out. How perfect to just talk to and play games with clients with no underlying goals! And, perfect timing for me! I played catch, brought bocce and a guitar to teach a couple new chords to a kid who likes to play.

The week before their vacation I took the initiative to hold an impromptu group with my guys and ask them what they have done in therapy, what they have liked and what they don't like, so I could organize my plans around keeping them engaged. I also explained to them what art therapy is, asked if they had any questions of me and concerns or hopes for future therapy. I left them with a folder of things to do over their week off during down time. The folder had copies of coloring pages, drawing instructions and paper model cars. It was a big hit! It probably had no less than 50 pages in it and I had to refill it midweek. When I walk in the house now, some of the kids and staff are often busy making something from the folder and my fellow clinician/office mate copied it for her house too, which is pretty good for my self esteem.

So, if you need to invest in something adolescent boys like, these are my recommendations based on their favorites in the folder I made: Paper Cars by Sam Atwal, Gargoyles and Medieval Monsters Coloring Book by A.G. Smith, Hidden Fur by Adam Turner. They also love directions for drawing cartoons etc. and I am still on the lookout for the best drawing resource for them. I noted staff using pages from the Mystical Mandala Coloring Book by Alberta Hutchinson. I love, love, love that staff is using stuff too, because they have a lot of burnout and need their coping tools, it is great modeling for the boys and it sorta helps me feel like I'm creating a relationship with staff, which is really important.

Paper Car
Also, as the first and only art therapist at my facility, requesting supplies was accomplished from my to-do list as well. However, the red tape for a new budget is a process. Luckily, it is back to school time and Target has cheap supplies for pennies. Yesterday I spent $28 on a ton of stuff that will hopefully get me through a month or two.

Here's my new group therapy kit (and there's more!)
Not the quality I would like, but it will do. I don't know if I will get reimbursed, because I kinda went off my own and did this when I noticed the sales, but $28 is a small price to pay for comfort in doing my job.


  1. looks like a great tool kit! Asking for supplies is always tricky, so I tend to keep a list of 'requested donations' handy just in case someone asks me what I like to will be surprised at who might like to donate to your cause!

    Self care and avoiding burnout are so important! It's amazing that art therapists are taught that but other helping profession fields are not...and then it happens.

  2. Burnout is the worst.

    Dear ATR,

    Hi, I'm a person from Wisconsin. I'm trying to engage a couple of tweens; one male, one female. They own some fuzzy family dynamics such as adoptive non-parents and concealed dead biological parents mixed with a more than healthy shot of routine youth trama. I've been involved with the pair since it was cold. I have had success with art and travel 'sessions' and was curious if you had any ideas.


    Moo-m from Wisconsin

  3. Thanks for asking! While I am certainly not yet a wealth of knowledge on tweens and teens, I can tell you what has worked for me in the past... there is no surefire way to engage anyone, but it seems helpful to know what they like and then do it, especially if you're not very good at it. Let them teach you something or use tools that you never thought could be therapeutic. I once worked with a kid who wouldn't meet with me because he was playing with Transformers, so I invited in his action figures and taught him how to make still-frame movies. He was also very active, so later we built a kite and went out and flew it. That may not seem like therapy, but since he had trouble 1. coming to therapy at all and 2. staying on task I think it was a big success. He started to ask to come to therapy and I gave him increasingly difficult tasks to focus on. I've also noticed if I can teach kids to use uncommon tools (as in not your regular art supplies), self-esteem seems to improve. If I know the movies and music they like, it can become a way to talk about the kids themselves, because we often like what reminds us of ourselves or whom we want to become. Also, I try to get their input on the agenda and not just work from a "your mom wants... and the system would like..." or saying nothing about goals. I like to know what their goals are and then find creative ways to work at it. Often adolescents are feeling the effects of their own behavior and want it to be different as well. They just handle it better when they are allowed to come to their own conclusion about it.

  4. Tranasformers are huge. Them and me went to see TRANSFORMERS D3 movie. It offered another opportunity for them to act like adults while adults act like children. Still, Leonard Nemoy played a rad backstabber. Thanks for response, I'll keep trying.