Drawing and Talking Case Study

All of our emotional wellbeing practitioners are trained Drawing and Talking Practitioners. Drawing and Talking is modelled on Dr John A B Allan’s ‘Serial Drawing’, a therapeutic Approach with Young children (University of British Columbia), with further supporting evidence from Carl Jung’s use of symbols and John Bowlby’s attachment theory.

D&T is about creating a safe caring emotional space to work through pain.

The Power of Drawing

Drawing can enable a person to express, in a visual form, worries and preoccupations from deep in the mind that they may not be able to talk about. Sometimes we just don’t know ourselves, at a conscious level what is wrong and why we are feeling out of sorts. The unconscious, deeper mind, always knows though, as it is all stored away inside of our ‘reptilian brain’. D&T can enable symbolic safe expressions of deep worries and feelings that seem often unsettling to a person—especially children.

It is interesting to know that during a traumatic event, our left sides of our brain (responsible for logical thinking, sequencing, and auditory language), completely shuts down, allowing only our right brain (responsible for senses, creativity and fantasy), to make sense of events. Through drawing and talking combined, the different sides of the brain can interact with each other safely meaning, the left side, can see in picture, what the right said has been unable to send over to process.

Without being able to process this information, the painful memories can become buried like toxic waste and can begin to poison a person’s day to day like.

The left side of our brains can see in picture, what the right side has been holding onto but has been unable to send over to the left for processing.

Over time, with an empathic adult giving the person attention and discussing their pictures in a gentle, thoughtful and supportive way, the person can create a story through the pictures that sorts things out, a symbolic resolution that heals old hurts and enables a person to move on.

When a person has been overwhelmed by events and has felt completely powerless, it’s important for them to get back a sense of power. Old memories can then be safely stored as something that happened in the past and is not still happening now. The brain can recognise it as an old pain as the events are processed safely.

Child A, six years old, was referred by his social worker, alongside his older brother for support from our project. The family had had several challenging and traumatic experiences and changes in the past year that would be considered adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). He had experienced being placed in foster care following his parents separating.

When he returned home, Mum had moved home to a new area and the children had to move schools. He had a new sibling at home and additionally his Mum lost another baby in utero. He had experienced significant domestic violence and substance/alcohol addiction from both parents in the past few years.

Child A was struggling with his emotions at school and home and it was felt he would benefit from extra support. Child A was offered a 12-week course of Drawing and Talking Support to help him to have a safe emotional space to work through and process his past experiences and changes.

During the family assessment, Mum reported that Child A had been diagnosed with ADHD but would usually refuse the medication and would struggle with hyperactivity and concentration much of the time. He was causing lots of conflict with their neighbours as he was breaking car windows, fighting and using bad language with local children in the community. Mum was struggling and felt that Child A was out of control. His headteacher also echoed the same concerns and felt worried that his behaviour was escalating beyond the schools capabilities.

Child A completed all 12 sessions. All sessions took place in his school. In our first few sessions Child A presented as confident and happy to engage. He was talkative and enjoyed the interaction. The theme of his drawings were often large monsters, small people/animals and death or injury. I interpreted these as the ‘Initial’ or first stage of Drawing and Talking.

As the sessions progressed, Child A’s drawing moved towards the ‘middle’ or second stage of Drawing and Talking. He would often draw two player games and battles of good and evil. During this time, home and school reported that his behaviour has shown improvements. He also demonstrated resilience when his class teacher returned following an extended period of illness which they anticipated would impact him.

I felt he was in the ‘Resolution’ or Final Stage in the final three weeks. His pictures were much more pleasant and the people he drew were smiling. He also added rainbows, birds and a sun. He was also much more positive, happy and playful. Child A proudly took home his folder in the final session.

During support, the family received Christmas presents and a food parcel. However, during the core group meetings, it was evident that his home life was still unsettled. The parents were often arguing in sight/earshot of the children and Mum was taken ill once after drinking to excess. There was also an incident during support where Child A had run away into the forest and no-one could find him and the police had to be called. It is expected that this had a negative impact on the progress he made.

Child A’s Post SDQ shows an overall improvement of 2 points. The largest improvement was in the conduct scale showing an improvement of 4 points. This was evident in sessions and school as he was much more settled as the sessions progressed. His head teacher also reported that he had settled much more in school with less incidents of disruptive behaviour and a greater ability to self-regulate. There was a decrease (2 points) in the peer scale but during support Child A was always keen to talk about friends and keen to play with them.

The family and the school were very happy with the support that Child A received. Child A is now doing extremely well, their friendships are improving as well as their relationships at home.