In many centres responsible for the care and treatment of disturbed children and adolescents, the aim is to get the children back into school and to their homes, if at all possible, so that the worst effects of being in an institution are avoided. There are therapeutic communities where group work is the norm, but in child and family centres and schools, it can be difficult to establish a group for various reasons: timetable, group work not being part of the ‘culture’ whereas individual work is, the children not being in the centre for more than a few months. Sometimes it happens that there is nobody on the psychotherapy staff with group work expertise. So the only groups that the children participate in are in the classroom, where the task is to improve their school work. In the majority of placement centres where our postgraduate art therapy trainees do their art therapy practice with children, it has been up to the trainee to introduce group work. This has often been difficult to set up and has ceased once the trainee finishes. The reasons for having a group with children and adolescents are much the same as for adults. It is a very different experience from being in the classroom.
Foulkes and Anthony, in their chapter ‘Psychotherapy with children and adults’ (Foulkes and Anthony, 1965) make the point that age and natural group formation to some extent dictate the therapeutic techniques used with children and it is essential that therapists familiarise themselves with the developmental phases of childhood and the sequential changes that occur in the child’s intellectual, emotional, social, moral and linguistic spheres. This presupposes, they suggest, a good understanding of child psychology and development as a background to group therapy with children (1965:190).
There are many similarities with play therapy, especially when working with very young children, and it is obvious that the therapist needs to adapt his or her technique and language when working with different age groups. Foulkes and Anthony recommend about 30 to 40 minutes per group, twice a week. Art therapy would seem to offer an excellent opportunity for interaction as children readily use materials, and do so spontaneously, except in rare cases where they are very withdrawn and inhibited and need special encouragement.