What does Therapy Look Like?


By Colette Flynn
on 17 February, 2017

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What exactly is therapy and what does it look like?

Does it come in a box? Or do I download it?

It may seem like an obvious question, but it is one that I get asked with surprising frequency in my work as an art therapist. It seems that many people have a fractured and shady idea of therapy, made from what they have seen and heard in the media. The classic stereotypical media depiction - and one that I spend a lot of my time dismantling – goes like this:

“The therapist is likely to be someone wearing a muted suit and glasses, their figure is probably that of an older person, someone who emits a kind of learned wisdom which you get from complicated, academic books. They are fairly still, not taking up too much space in the room, quietly sitting with a pen and paper, scrawling indecipherable notes. The ‘patient’ lies prostrate on a couch, recounting tales of their childhood, talking in a lengthy monologue, reflecting on the troubling symbols which they sometimes see in their dreams. The therapy session might take place in a dimly lit office full of files and papers, with dark wood furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in a library. When time is up, the therapist calls an end to the session and the patient leaves as independently as he arrived, returning soon to begin the process again, all within the controlled and rigid framework, as described."

Music Therapy In SchoolThe reality in my experience, is really quite far from this, especially in my job, in the Emotional & Trauma Support (ETS) team at One Education. In ETS, we offer a diverse selection of therapeutic interventions, all bespoke for children and young people, using creative expressive arts. 

Creative Therapy in Schools

I feel very fortunate to work right at the heart of education, engaging with children where they spend a great deal of time in their early life. Part of my day will involve going to children’s classes to bring them to their session as well as to liaise with teachers and other staff, dependent on the kind of referral, the level of need and if there are any safeguarding concerns.

There are no reclining couches in my work, I am far more accustomed to the tiny chairs and tables, smearing paint onto paper or carving clay or Play-Doh into shapes. I spend time watching children play with sand or paper, puppets or a dolls house, allowing them to move freely around the therapy room, observing them creatively using the space to play.

Horticulture Therapy In SchoolAlthough much of the work which the ETS team are engaged in is informed by psychoanalytic theories - those that underpin the standard ‘man-on-couch’ idea - the reality is that the traditions are synthesized into modern psychotherapeutic practice in a less obvious manner. There may still be note writing (after the sessions these days) and close observation of the individual’s words, dreams and actions within the hour-long session, but the process of therapeutic work has evolved to take on modern forms.

So what does therapy look like?

I have distilled the typical ETS therapeutic process into an easy-to-read breakdown, detailing what therapy might ‘look like’ to try and shed light on what is often a very protected and private time.

Although this is fairly comprehensive, it is not exhaustive, as therapy by nature is working with the individual and must wrap around their needs, particularly when it is with children. The following gives an idea of the format of a therapeutic intervention, regardless of the specific modality of the ETS therapist providing the support:

  • Therapy works with the specific needs of the individual and so takes a slightly different form every time it is conducted
  • The work has some core requirements. The therapist will typically work with children within their school setting, in a room which has been agreed beforehand as private
  • The sessions take place without interruption, which is essential for the therapeutic work
  • Consideration is taken when scheduling the sessions bearing in mind the academic and emotional needs of the young person
  • The same therapist will meet with each child on a weekly basis and work 1:1 for an hour at a time. This usually continues for some time, perhaps a few terms, perhaps the whole academic year. On occasion brief therapeutic interventions are appropriate
  • Whilst the need for the intervention persists, the therapist will continue to offer the creative therapeutic interventions with the young person
  • There are a number of outcome measures which the ETS team use to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. These are shared with teachers and parents or carers prior to therapy in order to ascertain a baseline for the child or young person
  • At the end of the therapy, the teachers and parents or carers complete the outcome measures for the child to support evaluation of progress post therapeutic intervention.

Therapy in the Digital World

Pharos Programme in SchoolSometimes therapy can be downloaded; the NHS runs online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy courses which can be helpful for some people who present with mild anxiety or depression. Occasionally, I am sure that therapy can come in a box; a friend of mine refers to his ‘self-development’ worksheets which he completes, straight out of a pack and recommended by a supportive health professional. I suppose then that therapy can come in a box and it can also be downloaded; it is continually adapting and takes many original and differing forms.

The Emotional & Trauma Support team at One Education offer unique, high quality, tailored therapy, primarily involving working with children, face-to-face, in the school context (or occasionally if necessary, in their homes). It is conscious of relational dynamics and the complex systemic issues in the environments around the child. It is focused on giving the young individual a voice and an opportunity to express themselves. ETS foster safe spaces for reflective self-expression, using the creative arts and highly trained and registered therapists in order to deliver psychological support to those who need it.                                   

Our range of therapies includes: art therapy, dance movement therapy, dramatherapy, music therapy, horticulture therapy, play therapy, counselling as a therapeutic medium, and the Pharos Programme, which helps international new arrivals integrate with their new surroundings.

For more information about our range of support, or to discuss how we may be able to assist children in your school or academy, contact Colette Flynn on 0844 967 1111.

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