Art & Drama Sessions with Two Young Families

Eleanor C. Irwin, PhD, RDT, TEP; Judith A. Rubin, PhD, ATR-BC, HLM

Videotaped sessions from two families show similarities and differences in art and drama family sessions, but interactional patterns and conflicts are illustrated in both, including issues of dominance/submission; victim/aggressor; problem-maker/problem-solver.

The family art session offers an opportunity for each member, individually, to create and reflect on the product, while the family mural task requires the family to share space. Thus, while interactional patterns and psychological aspects of the self are revealed in both art tasks, the request to work together in a shared space may be more difficult, as members sometimes ignore personal boundaries and trespass on another’s work.

Puppets, through their costumes, carry symbolic messages: i.e., King – power and riches; Alligator and Dragon – aggression; Doctor, Policeman – one’s occupation, etc. While the opportunity to create and reflect is also present in drama therapy, the additional inherent demand for action is hard for all, especially preschoolers. Because drama suggests “action and conflict,” players need to cooperate to create a story, but action-oriented preschoolers, with immature defenses, may tend to use puppets concretely as aggressive weapons rather than as “symbols,” enacting fantasies. And, just as at home, parents try to deal with the emotions stimulated in this situation.

Comments from Eleanor Irwin, Ph.D., RDT, TEP:
Observation of the “A” family art therapy session, reveals many nonverbal clues about family dynamics as they work, in addition to the rich symbolic information in their art work projects. The parents, with two lively preschoolers and an infant, readily engage in the process and as they do so, they give clues about the role each individual plays in the family. Readily observable is the decision-making process; the way the family works/ plays together; alliances or splits in the family; how affection and/or conflict/aggression is expressed and handled (i.e., sibling rivalry, parent tensions; child-parent tensions) and so forth. In addition, one can also observe the family members use of space; the sharing of materials; acceptance or covert negation of ideas expressed … all this in addition to the wealth of the symbolic content revealed in the art activities.

Observation of the “B” family art therapy session – Corralling a family with three preschoolers to work conjointly on a task is not easy, as one can see from this video. The art therapist needs to be comfortable with the restlessness and physicality of the children, as all begin to work on the diagnostic task(s). When the initial art project is centered at a table, the children seem better able to focus on the task, even though one child moves away to an easel. But when the space and boundaries widen to work on a wall mural, the activity levels increase, and children’s attention decreases. The therapist makes a helpful intervention, directly addressing the covert sibling rivalry and anger, setting an empathic example of how to address difficult feelings.

Valuable diagnostic data can be garnered from the nonverbal clues of the family: i.e., roles of the parents; patterns of dominance/submission; overt and covert discipline methods; alliances and splits and so forth. Additionally, the verbal and nonverbal symbolic content inherent in the art task add helpful diagnostic clues about issues that can addressed in therapy.”

Total Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes, 21 seconds



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