How Art Therapy Supports Kids at New Destiny Housing
Children's Mental Health Week is February 4 - 10. To recognize and spread awareness on the importance of children's mental health, we spoke with one of our art therapists, Mickie Hoffman ATR-BC, LCAT, who works with a youth group at New Destiny Housing in the Bronx. New Destiny Housing is a New York City nonprofit organization providing housing and social services to homeless populations and victims of domestic violence. Learn more about the group and how art therapy plays a valuable role in youth development below:
What is your role?
My role is art therapist, teacher and creator of a safe space.
Describe your group.
The group ranges from 8 - 12 years old and all the kids live in the same building in the Bronx.
What connects the participants in your group?
Many of the kids have lost or been separated from a loved one or experienced homelessness. We focus on making connections with others and creating cohesion within the group in order to help the kids learn to share, lean on each other and ask for help. I make sure everyone feels connected to the group and the art-making experience by providing a safe and nonjudgmental space.
How is your group structured?
The session is designed in an open studio format where clients are welcome to choose any material. However, some kids need more direction than others, while others are very independent and self-directed. For those who need more direction, I offer more structured materials such as stickers or drawing materials. For those who enjoy working independently, I offer clay or paint, where there is more freedom to express.
How does your group learn about different materials?
One way they learn about different materials is through exploring famous artists. For example, we have previously discussed the work of Henri Matisse and created paper cutouts and shapes, which are very reminiscent of his style. We have also talked about Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers, which has been another way to introduce painting as a material. This helps the kids see real life examples of how expression through art can have many different forms.
Does the group work collaboratively?
I occasionally facilitate collaborative projects and assign kids to work with others they don’t typically interact with. During our collaborative projects, the group at first works individually to create their own piece. Each piece is then assembled into one larger work, which creates one group narrative. This helps improve social skills and expand the group’s social network as kids learn to accept differences and appreciate similarities. Any fears or self-doubts are addressed through the metaphor of the art-making experience, which allows for a safer way to explore these difficult themes.
Have you seen participants make positive changes?
In the early stages of our group, there was one child who presented some challenges - he had multiple outbursts, appeared continually frustrated by the art materials, exhibited intolerant behavior and would sometimes destroy things. He also had a hard time asking for help. Since being in the group, he has become increasingly creative and even more imaginative in his art process. He has been able to connect with his peers and accept support from me. Recently, a social worker at the building noticed changes in his behaviors outside of group. She recognized his new found ability to stop himself from getting frustrated in situations that would have previously resulted in a tantrum.
Why is group art therapy important for these kids?
Group creates a place where the kids can be free, relaxed, creative and express themselves safely. The group has been together for two years and they are really committed to the experience and each other. Having this safe space for them to create, be free and talk about ideas, or even not talk at all, has made significant changes on their behaviors, social skills and outlook on life.
To learn more about our art therapists, click here.