Child Art Psychotherapy
Child Art Psychotherapy, (CAP), is a modality of psychotherapy, designed by Vera Vasarhelyi, 1, for children and adolescents up to the age of 18 years. The young person’s pictorial language is the primary means of communication. The method allows the young person explore his or her emotions through the creation of images in a safe space.
The images that are created, and all that is contained within them, are central to the process of coming to a better understanding of feelings and experiences.
The method is based on the principle that visual thinking and expression have a distinctive and direct relationship with the unconscious: ‘the symbolic content of images can facilitate a unique insight into the dynamics of the unconscious, and allow the privilege of seeing hidden processes, which would otherwise remain largely inaccessible to exploration’, (Vasarhelyi 1990).2
The Prosess of Child Art Psychotherapy
Therapy begins with an introductory session followed by three ‘assessment’ sessions. During the ‘assessment’ sessions the therapist invites the child to create an image with a particular theme in mind. These sessions provide the therapist with some indication of the difficulties the child or young person may face. After these three sessions a review meeting is held and the young person and their parents/guardians discuss the most appropriate next step regarding ongoing sessions. For subsequent sessions the child is free to create images without themes being presented by the therapist.
Regular review meetings are arranged with the child and their parents/guardians. The therapist may also liaise with teachers and other health care professionals while protecting the child’s confidentiality.
How long does therapy last?
The number of sessions varies for each child depending on their unique circumstances and this will be discussed at reviews. It is important to plan a ‘goodbye’ session in therapy as it will allow the child time to express any difficult feelings that arise during the process of ending.
The images made in the session and any information shared with the therapist will be treated as confidential. This enables a child or young person to feel safe enough to bring all their worries.
The only time the therapist will need to share information is if the child or young person, or someone else is at risk and there is a need to protect them. If this happens, the therapist will speak to the young person and their family and explain what they are going to do.
Children for whom this form of therapy may be particularly beneficial are those with:
- Anxiety & Depression
- Attachment Issues
- Communication Difficulties
- Family Crisis
- Psychosomatic Problems
- Post-Traumatic Stress
- Difficulties relating to the expression of emotions and self-image
Members of ACAP work within a child protection framework and abide by the Code of Ethics and Practice set out by ACAP – the professional Association of Child Art Psychotherapists in Ireland.
1. Vasarhelyi, V. (2011, September). Intellectual property statement regarding the Child Art Psychotherapy model, formerly known as Visual Psychotherapy. Lecture notes distributed in Msc Child Art Psychotherapy. Ireland: University College Dublin.
2. This explanation of Child Art Psychotherapy has been drawn from a number of published articles:
- Tanıl E, Coşkunlu A, Mulligan A. Child Art Psychotherapy in CAMHS in Ireland-a parent satisfaction study. Irish Journal of Medical Science. 2018 Nov;187(4):987-992. DOI: 10.1007/s11845-018-1786-1.
- Boyle, O. and Mulligan A. Child Art Psychotherapy Proposed as Adjunctive Therapy for Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes Obes Int J 2017, 2(2): 000153.
- Coskunlu, A., Tanıl, E., Coffey, A., Büyüktaskın, D., & Mulligan, A. (2017). The Vasarhelyi method of child art psychotherapy: an adjunctive treatment in childhood depression. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 2017. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02668734.2017.1334150
- Carroll and Coffey, 2016. The Valuable Role of Child Art Psychotherapy. Forum. Journal of the Irish College of General Practitioners, Vol 33No. 4. p. 50-52.
- McGovern M., Byrne A., McCormack, M., Mulligan A., (2016). The Vasarhelyi Method of Child Art Psychotherapy in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services: a stakeholder survey of clinical supervisors, https://doi.org/10.1017/ipm.2016.29
- Saba L, Byrne A., Mulligan A., (2016). Child art psychotherapy in CAMHS: Which cases are referred and which cases drop out?SpringerPlus 5, 1816 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-016-3509-2