How our art therapy helped 9 year old ‘Lucy’ with her anxiety
January 11, 2022
Lucy was having difficulties with excessive anxiety following a number of challenging life experiences. Trying new things had become increasingly difficult for her, including attending school, and she had become fearful when separating from her parents.
Even activities she previously enjoyed such as attending clubs or playing with friends were being avoided as they became increasingly anxiety-provoking, causing significant distress, physical symptoms such as nausea, and difficulty getting to sleep at night.
It was apparent that Lucy was struggling with her self-esteem and confidence and had developed some fears and anxious predictions about what she may be faced with. She also expressed negative beliefs about her ability to cope with challenges, to get things right and to be liked and appreciated by others, particularly her peers.
She attended 16 weekly sessions with Emily, our Art Psychotherapist, which took place both face-to-face in our Art Therapy Studio and via video calls during periods of lockdown.
Early sessions focussed on building a collaborative therapeutic relationship, getting to know Lucy and exploring some immediate coping and calming strategies, such as breathing and grounding techniques, for the anxiety that she experienced at particular times.
Lucy created an image of a safe, calming space to visualise during times of stress and anxiety. The image combined real and imagined places and objects that allowed her to access stories about cherished family memories, supportive family and friends, and experiences that she enjoyed, or found soothing.
Turning the feelings into creatures with names and creating stories about them allowed her to accept and understand them and no longer be fearful of them. Employing metaphors of strength and bravery were significant in enabling her to challenge and gain mastery over them.
Playing with ideas in this way meant Lucy was able to recognise that alternative outcomes were possible. She could reframe her thinking and expectations and grew her confidence to try new things in her real life, such as approaching new people to develop friendships.
Lucy used animal figures to symbolise important people in her life, identifying characteristics and strengths that she admired in her family and friends and recognising that these were things she often had in common with them. She could also visualise these people forming a strong network of support around her.
Over time Lucy recognised that she had many internal resources and could envisage new coping strategies when she needed to. She found she was less fearful and could manage her worries much more effectively. Her self-esteem grew as she recognised her capabilities, achievements, and special qualities.
Lucy created a protective shield for her bedroom wall to support her in remembering her strengths, positive qualities and things that make her happy.