Why Art Therapy for Kids?

Written by: Talia Carin, M.A.

Anyone who has young kids, or who has spent significant time with kids, knows that their primary way of interacting with and understanding the world is not always verbal. More often than not, kids learn about and explore the outer world and express their inner world through play and art.

Art making is, at its most basic, just another form of communication.

Think about how we teach children new things compared to how we teach new things to adults.

When we are asking an adult to understand something new we will likely convey the information with words. We may simply tell them, we may ask them to read about it, to take notes, maybe even to paraphrase it and explain it back to us. In some cases, we may employ graphs and other visuals or mnemonic devices such as a song to help us understand or remember the information.

Now think about the way we teach things to children. Although language is important, and may be used it it’s traditional form, we often expand on that language with the creation of a narrative, say in the case of storytelling, or music and rhythm, in the form of a song or nursery rhyme. We almost always include visual imagery, with bright colours and interesting pictures.  When we’re lucky, we are able to involve even more of their senses. We are now realizing that it’s most advantageous to teach children using sight, sound, smell, touch and taste whenever possible. This is because we now understand that children will be more likely to pay attention and to absorb information when it is communicated in a way that is fun, engaging and respectful of their developmental stage.

There is no reason it should be different with therapy.

Research has shown that one of the most important components of therapy when it comes to predicting positive outcomes is the therapeutic alliance (Baylis, Collins & Coleman, 2011).  For any of us to feel comfortable with our therapists we need to feel listened to, understood, validated and cared for and this is no different for children. But, according to the Child Alliance Process Theory, some additional factors help build the therapeutic alliance with a child, including talking less and participating more in activities and problem solving with the child (Baylis, Collins & Coleman, 2011).

Creating together is a non-threatening way to engage with a child to help them concretely work out problems, track progress, scaffold skills, and confront fears. It can help a child feel successful, creative and in control when circumstances have made that difficult for them.


Baylis, P. J., Collins, D., & Coleman, H. (2011). Child Alliance Process Theory: A Qualitative Study of a Child Centred Therapeutic Alliance. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 28(2), 79–95. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-011-0224-2


About the Author: Talia Carin, M.A.

I am currently working at a centre for children with developmental disabilities, and an alternative high school with at risk youth, and at the MTC with children, adolescents and families.

In my practice I combine talk therapy with creativity and play to help create a non-threatening environment in which kids and adolescents can explore their thoughts and feelings. Coming from a client-centered, strength based approach, I use what clients bring to the table to help them learn more about themselves, leave behind old patterns, and discover new strengths to get them through what life brings their way. With empathy and a spirit of collaboration and curiosity, we will dig into and explore their story. Whether that means rewriting a narrative, looking at the complexity of communication or simply giving someone the space to experience themselves differently, it is a joy to be with people, in all their complexity.