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Art therapy for people with Learning Disabilities by Jon Martyn

cropped-splat31Art Therapy is an incredibly helpful way of exploring your life, feelings and relationships. Usually you will meet with your therapist on a weekly basis to make art, explore your feelings and develop a relationship that will help you toward self-understanding and improved communication.

You do not need to have experience of art making, and the therapist will help you to gain confidence in using the art materials and develop their own way of expression.

It provides:
– a private and non judgemental space.
– a place where you can talk about things that are difficult to share with family, friends and careers.
– help with relationships
– opportunity to develop creativity & expression.
– opportunity to be understood by others.
– opportunity to understand your own feelings.

How can it help you?
– being creative helps with self-esteem and self image.
– understanding yourself can help you to change how you react to difficult feelings.
– being heard and understood can improve how you feel about yourself.

Here are three examples of people with learning disabilities who have found art therapy helpful:

A young adult came to me who was very unhappy with his life and had an invented alternative persona who lived in another country and had a different family. Thinking of his alternative persona was making him unhappy, as his life was very different from these fantasies. When he shared his fantasies with his family they were hurt and their relationship deteriorated. We worked together for seven months and he was able to use art therapy to draw his rich imagination while talking about the difficulties he had in his life. The therapy helped him to better accept his imperfect relationships, to think of ambitions that were achievable, and improve his communication – improving his connection with his family, reducing his need to escape to his fantasies and increasing his interest in engaging with his life.

A elderly woman who had incredibly low self-confidence and who found it difficult to be with other people without getting angry. I worked with her for five months and much of the work was centred around simple mark-making. It was a tentative relationship, and she would frequently become dissatisfied with me and her art work – frequently expressing anger and throwing art work away. We gradually developed a positive relationship where she was able to trust that I was interested in her and the art she made. She gradually grew to tolerate mistakes and take risks with mark making. Eventually she was able to draw simple shapes – circles, squares, triangles – something most people would take for granted. For her it was an immense achievement, that happened with the help of someone who was taking her and her creativity seriously.

I work with a man with limited communication skills, and originally came to therapy because he struggles to be with other men. He initially found it difficult to stay in the room, and would frequently go for breaks. He enjoys painting immensely, and although I don’t always know what he is painting, he has increasingly been able to tolerate my company. The art making helps him to be with someone in a non-intrusive way- we paint side-by-side, and much of our communication is focused on the art we make. I encourage him to help me to make aesthetic decisions in my artwork. I do this to encourage spontaneous and creative interaction with me, to encourage him to express his opinions and so that we can interact in a way that he doesn’t find overwhelming. Recently there are moments where he seems to be enjoying my company, and there is a positive relationship developing.

These are just a few examples of how art therapy can help, if you would like to know more, you are welcome to get in touch – either with me directly or with the London Art Therapy Centre, where there a number of highly skilled art therapists. Fees range between £45-65 per session.

Jon Martyn
HCPC and BAAT Reg Art Psychotherapist



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