Art Psychotherapy

By Angela Rackstraw

MA (Art Therapy) UK

Art Psychotherapy (or Art Therapy, as it is also known), has an important part to play in Palliative care. Not only is art-making fun and playful, it is a universal language understood by all children, even those who have not encountered art materials before. Children are generally far less inhibited than adults, and will therefore easily be drawn into art-making. It is the therapist’s role to think about the best way of engaging each individual child, and which art materials are most appropriate for that child to use.

Words are difficult for many children, and if there is the added challenge of language difference, even more so.  For this reason, art-making is often a much easier way for children to communicate. It is also less threatening. If a child is ill, or needing to think about difficult feelings and realities, words are even more difficult. Again, it is the therapist’s role to think of a way for that specific child to express themselves non-verbally, and then to try and help the child find the words to tell their story or express themselves, if appropriate. Sometimes, words are not needed at all. The very act of externalising feelings in play or art-making in the presence of a therapist, is often enough.


The end-product is not what is focused on, but rather the actual process of the session. Patients / clients do not need to be “good at art”.

I have found that dying children mostly want their individual story told, and shared. They want to be actively remembered. Often they will want to leave letters or drawings to be given to loved ones after their dying. It is therefore sometimes the privilege of the therapist to be the keeper of very precious objects or drawings, until parents and other loves ones are ready to receive them.

The images which are shared here are done so with the express permission of the child and / or parent.

I would like to end by stating this: Art Therapy is NOT about interpreting colours or images. It is about a psychotherapeutic relationship, where art-making is an added way of communicating. Art Therapy is a recognised profession, and it is compulsory for therapists to register with the Health Profession’s Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

If anyone would like to find out more about Art Therapy or any Art Facilitation workshops, please email me at