Mental Health Mondays – “Creatively Coping with Grief”

Mental Health Mondays - September 28 Event

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“Creatively Coping with Grief”
On Monday, Sept. 28, Danielle Brant, board certified art therapist and license mental health counselor and Diana San Miguel, registered mental health counseling intern and bereavement counselor, from Hope Healthcare discussed “Creatively Coping with Grief.”

What does childhood grief look like?
Reactions we have during grief can be different with children. They are more likely to show their emotions through behaviors, not always with words. Children may not be expressive about death.

How do you know if they grieve?
If a child is old enough to love, they are old enough to grieve. You may notice some behavioral responses. It depends on development, personality and the relationship they had with the deceased. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and reactions can change over time.

Some physical responses you may see include: changes in digestive system, fatigue, clinginess loss of appetite, and lack of concentration are a few of the common reactions. Children may want security, safety and reassurance.

How much do you share with your child about the death?
Be honest with your child. What they may be imagining may be worse than what is going to happen. They may be more ready to hear than we assume.

How do parents handle their own grief?
See how you are reacting so you know how to normalize these experiences for your children. Be reliable, open, and welcoming of questions. If you don’t have an answer, it’s OK to say that.

Art therapy practice and purpose in grief support
We use a multi-disciplinary team approach because we believe that treating a child with cancer or chronic illness requires a team effort. It’s not just about the medicine. With our team we:
Art therapists are masters level clinicians that use the creative process, psychological theory and the psychotherapeutic relationship to enhance the well-being of clients.

Who can benefit from art therapy?
Children who are getting art therapy at Hope Healthcare are referred by team members, counselors or social worker. They find the child may gravitate to art, their verbal expression may be limited, or developmental factors might complicate how they communicate. Creativity is natural. Creating without judgment can be therapeutic. Art can speak when words fail. Communication may result in insights. Art can open a conversation in a way that is safe. Making art itself can be soothing and calming and reduce stress.

How do you choose materials?
Art therapists are trained to identify appropriate materials and balance the structure of those materials to achieve client goals. Art media in the form of drawing, painting or sculpting could be explored. We can encounter different reactions to materials. Sequence of tasks and level of energy for projects are considered.

How does art therapy help with grief?

  1.  Art provides the opportunity to tell story of loss. Through creating art, children can safely access, recognize and regulate emotions. It allows them to see and hold an intangible feeling. Children can express things they may not even realize they are feeling. Example: Drawing a bridge can be a powerful metaphor for change and transition. A 9-year- child’s drawing of a bridge became a metaphor for his parental loss. This child’s bridge depicted a robbery. He described being fearful and having a loss of security. He finally made the connection that he felt robbed. Until he was able to sit down and draw his story, it was difficult for him to describe what he was feeling.
  2.  Art can be fun. Children can take pleasure in creating art; it’s important to reinforce play and creativity. Giving children permission to do this supports creative coping skills.
  3.  Solidifying memory through art about their person helps children feel connected to their loved one.
  4.  Many art exercises have an element of rebuilding. It’s a wonderful way for children to explore theme of healing through physically repairing a piece of art. Rebuilding a broken container or figure reinforces this concept. Often in rebuilding, children create something that is stronger than the original form. When children can successfully reconstruct something, they are internalizing that experience and recognizing they can transform and heal, too. It’s possible even with cracks or missing pieces.
  5.  Art can be a tangible record for what they have progressed through. They have something to reference in terms of the transformation they have made. Change in color, style and form can happen and helps show progression. That can be affirming.
  6. Art can be a great tool for communicating with others. It becomes a shared, meaningful experience. This provides opportunities to be present and talk with one another.
  7. Art making allows us to be present with children. You are giving them the message that what they are doing is valuable. There is not a right or wrong way to create.

Creative Opportunity to Try

This art exercise is not intended to treat or substitute counseling. It is a creative exercise to open up conversations about change. The exercises can also be about having fun with one another. The exercises includes creating a gratitude wreath or garland. We have a template of leaves to print out. You may choose to color or paint. There is not a right or wrong way to complete. This can even be done with family and friends over distance. Consider creating and exchanging leaves with each other. Download the template here.

For this activity, it would be helpful to gather: coloring utensils, scissors and painter’s tape. If you would like to elaborate upon the project, you may choose to use other material. This could include a wreath frame, glue, silk flowers or leaves. A variety of materials could be included with this project.

Leaves are great symbols for change and transition. Have children think about the leaves and the changes these endure through seasons. You might want to search out pictures or videos of this together. Or recollect any times you may have seen this in places lived or visited. Normalize the changes people experience, just like the trees. Coloring how the leaves change may stimulate conversation about how we experience change.

Children can be encouraged to write or draw on leaves about this. After, consider shifting to the concept of gratitude. What can we be grateful for despite change? This can also include writing or drawing things that are appreciated. You may have children think of activities, places, people or memories that

bring them comfort. This can then be assembled as a wreath or as garland. Consider displaying in a designated space to reinforce a mindset of gratitude.

There are no expectations on how the final art piece should look. Approach art making without judgement. Give children the opportunity to share in the moment with you. There is value in simply enjoying something together.



Q: At what age can you use art therapy with a child?
A: If they can pick up and grasp the materials, they can be as young as 3 and still experience something therapeutic.

Any favorite materials you like to have on hand to do something creative with a child?
A: You can’t go wrong, and they don’t have to be expensive. We always have crayons and paper. You can make your own template. Paint, glue. You don’t have to have an art studio to create something meaningful with children. It’s about presence. You don’t have to get extravagant materials. Paper plates and other simple materials work fine. Children can be creative with few supplies. Children will often have their own ideas too. Just ask them.