In an art therapy group parents and infants can use art materials together in a playful way. This will enable them to develop new ways of relating to each other with the support of the art therapist. The process of making art together can support bonding between parents and infants, helping them to develop new ways of relating and encouraging their enjoyment of each other through art and play. Infants love the sensory experience of making art and the chance to spend quality time with their carers. Most infants seem to be instinctively drawn to the art materials and are able to use these to communicate. The therapists can help parents to notice and understand their infants communication. For parents the group provides a supportive experience where they can relax and respond to their child.
Art therapy groups have been run within the DCA in Dundee, Tramway in Glasgow, Dunfermline Carnegie libraries and Gallery, and Taigh Chearsabhagh on Uist, as well as through NHS and charity partners in the National Museum of Scotland and the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh. Groups are currently ongoing with DCA in partnership with NHS Tayside Infant Mental Health team, Taigh Chearsabhagh and our charity partner Cross Reach in Edinburgh.
Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. For more information see the British Association of Art Therapists
What happens in the groups?
The groups run each week with about 8 parent-infant pairs in a gallery setting. The group will be run by an art therapist and a co-facilitator. Each group will be 1.5 hours, giving time for art making, washing the painty babies and then some time to relax and have a cup of tea at the end. As babies have their own ideas of what they will be doing, parent’s can feel free to take time out for feeding, resting, changing etc.
All the art materials are safe for supervised babies and toddlers, some made from fruit, veg and other foodstuffs. Basics like paints will always be available and some weeks special things will be added to keep it interesting. For example, we might have a week making play dough or a week using lots of natural materials like pine cones and leaves or a week making clay hand and foot prints.
As well as the benefits of the art making together parents also end up with a collection of amazing things to take home as memories of their child’s first art works, and with no cleaning up to do. Most of all it’s fun for the babies and their grown ups!
Who groups are for?
The groups are for under three’s together with their main caregiver. Parents may want to join for a variety of reasons. They may feel overwhelmed by the task of being a new parent or may feel that they are struggling to bond with their baby. Some parents may come suffering from post natal depression. Maybe they just feel that they would like to try something new together which will support their enjoyment of each other.
At DCA referrals can be made by a families health visitor or family nurse through the Infant Mental Health team. Referrals routes vary between the different sites, but can usually be made by health professionals, social workers or voluntary sector workers or by parents themselves. Once a referral is received the art therapist will contact parents to arrange to visit them at their convenience to make introductions and explain more about the group before the first session.
Evaluating the groups?
We evaluate the infant’s and parent’s experiences of these groups as part of our ongoing research. Parents will be asked to fill in some questionnaires before starting and at the end of their time in the group, and we look for observational changes in the babies experiences in the group. All data collected has been approved by the University of Dundee Ethics Committee and will be kept anonymous.
What parents in the pilot groups have said?
“I would definitely recommend it to others and would say it is a must to help you bond and have great fun with your child.”
“I would never have gotten out paints and crayons until they were much older. I just didn’t realise how much benefit there was to be gained.”
“I’ve changed my views of mess, It’s made me a fun, playful mum to my daughter. My little one is more confident”
“Seeing other mums teaching their children has helped me to have more courage to teach my own as handling twins can feel overwhelming to do this sometimes.”
“I have learnt so much, before I thought I was clueless, but I now know I’m not.”
“[I’m] more aware of the fun I can have being a mum. Its taught me to enjoy it and that it can be fun and much more than just a job.”