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Drawing and Talking Therapy – ‘The Healing Power of Putting Pen to Paper’

October 21, 2022
9 minute read

The story of The Little Shed of Calm

Wearing all of my many hats – a qualified teacher and Assistant Head with over 16 years’ experience in early years’ education, a trained practitioner in Drawing and Talking Therapy, creator of The Little Shed of Calm and as a mother, I have always had a passion for promoting children’s wellbeing and mental health. 

Today’s world is a tricky place to grow and live and we are sadly seeing a significant rise in mental health issues in children and young people.  My belief has always been that all children should be able to grow up with fond memories and experiences of childhood and from this wish The Little Shed of Calm was created….

The Little Shed of Calm is a tiny therapeutic space that offers BIG opportunities for supporting children to work through their emotions, trauma and anxieties, through using Drawing and Talking Therapy.

Drawing and Talking Therapy – the what, why, how and where

Drawing and Talking Therapy is a safe and gentle therapeutic intervention.  It provides an effective way for children and young people to process emotional pain or trauma they may be experiencing.  It is considered a very simple but highly effective tool, that has the power to make the child feel emotionally better, and more resilient.

I am sure at some point in all of our professional careers or personal lives we have observed a child, who may be displaying unhealthy behaviours, at school or at home, who doesn’t have the necessary language to express themselves.  It often comes out in other ways, such as anger, violence, sadness, anxiety, withdrawal.

Child's Drawing

When a child has a piece of paper in front of them, and is given the freedom to draw whatever they like without interruption, this frees the right side of the brain allowing emotions and worries to be expressed.  Combined with talking about their drawings in a safe and secure environment can help the child make sense of what is going on in their internal world. 

Now for the science…

Why is this therapeutic intervention so effective?  Well I am most definitely not a neuroscientist but I will share the basic science behind how and why Drawing and Talking Therapy works.

The human brain is made of up of the left side and right side each responsible for different aspects of our behaviour and functions.  The left side being in control of our language, logic, organisation, sequencing (movement of time) and is the side of the brain which is closely linked with our conscious mind.  Whereas the right side is more closely linked with our unconscious mind and is responsible for our creativity, imagination, physical and sensory behaviours and functions.

Knowing how the brain works then is an important part of understanding that if you experience a trauma the functions of the left brain shut down and this is what is known as ‘shock’ - your body’s way of self -protection in the moment.  Common sayings such as ‘time stood still’ or ‘I was lost for words’ when recalling traumatic or shocking events, are both good examples of helping to convey what happens to you in this situation and how you lose your ability to use language, logic, organisation and sequencing skills as you normally would.

However, this is all well and good at protecting you at the time but what happens to the traumatic images you have witnessed and/or experienced.  Research shows that that traumatic memories are stored in the part of the brain that is not directly reached by talking on its own.  It is the right side of the brain where powerful emotional memories are stored.  There is also a misconception that ‘bad’ memories can be ‘dead and buried’ but this is not the case as old, painful memories are still live and dangerous, until they are safely processed and this is what Drawing and Talking Therapy has the power to do.

The Power of Drawing

The power of drawing is it enables a child to express, in a visual form, worries from deep in the mind that they would not be able to talk about.  “If only they would just tell me what is wrong” … teachers and parents will say to children.  But the point is, very often children just don’t know themselves, at a conscious level.  The unconscious, deeper mind always knows though, it is all stored away. 

Drawings enable symbolic and safe expression of deep worries and feelings.  Through the combination of drawing and talking, the different sides of the brain can interact with each other to problem solve.  Over time with an empathic adult giving the child attention and talking with them in a gentle, thoughtful and supportive way, the child can create a story through the pictures that helps them to sort things out – a symbolic resolution. 

It is crucial to stress, in the context of ‘Drawing and Talking’ that the drawings produced are not judged or measured in terms of artistic ability.  Drawing with talking are tools for emotional healing and not for producing an art masterpiece.

How to deliver Drawing and Talking Therapy

Drawing and Talking Therapy consists of 12 weekly sessions of 30 minutes.  Ideally in a private, undisturbed space that is available at the same time and day.  The adult supporting the child should also be consistent as their role is to ‘hold physically and mentally’ throughout the sessions.    Honesty is essential to the success of the process, always explaining what we are you doing, using the term engaging in ‘Drawing and Talking to help’.  The discussion that takes place in the session should always be confidential unless a safeguarding disclosure is made.  In this situation you would always follow your settings standard safeguarding procedures.

The beauty of Drawing and Talking Therapy is that it requires minimal resources, a named document folder to store pictures, A4 white paper and a pen or pencil.

You begin the session by welcoming the child and telling them they may draw anything they like.  You wait for the child to initiate talk, unless they have finished their drawing without saying anything, then you may ask them if they would like to tell you about their drawing.   It is important for the talk to stay within the ‘security’ of the picture.  Sit without a barrier between you and no note taking is allowed so that the child has your full attention. You should give the child a five minute warning before end of the session - leaving time to name, date and session, as well as adding a title if the child wishes.   All drawings go into their folder.  The adult is there to contain it, hold them and keep the child and drawings safe.  At the end of working together you then give them their folder of drawings to keep. 

Stages of Drawings What will you see

The Initial Stage, usually sessions 1 to 4, the pictures give a view of the child’s internal world, often showing images that reflect the cause of his or her problems.  Central themes include; devastation, disasters, cars crashing, killing, fire, earthquakes, volcanoes, people trapped, or monsters.  Drawings on the page can also appear fragmented or unrelated. 

The Middle Stage, typically sessions 5 to 8, drawings often depict struggle, conflict and the fight between bad and good.  The child can appear as both hero and villain showing the struggle they may be having with the emotions they are expressing.

The Resolution Stage, the latte sessions 9-12.  Once deeper feelings and pain have been expressed symbolically and/or verbally there tends to be rapid movement towards resolution.  Drawings will depict feeling of coping and order.  No wars or explosions but the sun shining and people smiling – positive images.  Drawings are also often protected by a frame or boarders to preserve the new found control and regulation they have over their feelings and emotions.

Drawing for Wellbeing

Whilst Drawing and Talking Therapy is intended to be delivered as a 1:1 intervention, what we can learn from the principles and benefits of Drawing and Talking Therapy is that drawing can be a great strategy to have in your own self-care toolkit, as well as a technique for children to use.  I believe that ‘drawing for wellbeing’ should be integrated into all classrooms as it is an effective way of helping us to express our feelings and experiences.  You can literally draw your worries away.  

Educational Practitioners need to value drawing and mark making as a form of communicating thoughts, expressing feelings, working through ideas and regulating emotions.   Enabling environments should give all children the opportunities to have the time, resources and space to draw in a way that they feel happy and comfortable too – for one child it may be felt tip pens and paper, another chalks on the playground floor, or even sticks in the mud!

By tuning into children through their drawings we can help them to cope with their emotions, a lifelong skill for promoting mental health and wellbeing.

Corinne Hurd, Assistant Head at BEYA St. Margaret’s Nursery School and Drawing and Talking Practitioner at The Little Shed of Calm.

Corinne Hurd D&T Practitioner

 If you would like further information or to express an interest for me to work with you, you may contact me at:

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