Warning: this post is wordy, but worth it and no, the word therapizing is not a real word...
I worked with a patient who was involved in an extremely traumatic event that required her to be hospitalized in the PICU. She was a toddler who refused to talk at first. She was, appropriately, anxious with strangers as her family was not bedside. She indicated by shaking her head that she would color if provided the materials. I strategically chose crayons, plain white paper and a coloring book, hoping she would utilized the plain paper to tell her story, but wanting her to have choices as well. I was pleasantly surprised and actually excited when she chose the white paper and began intently creating her masterpiece. She worked for about 15 minutes, which was quite an effort given her age. She was specific and seemed to choose her colors with care.
My years of training and education taught me that this patient was using the tools to share her trauma and work through the stress she must be experiencing. I knew she probably wouldn't have the vocabulary to discuss her art, but as long as she had the opportunity to work through her stress, I had done my job as a child life specialist.
When she finally finished, she simply moved the paper to the side and picked up her coloring book. Being the good child life specialist that I am, I let the patient continue in her play while I looked over her drawing.
I attempted to create meaning behind this creation and searched for hidden messages relating to the trauma, but of course, I am not an art therapist and came up short. The social worker then came in to do a needs assessment, but saw the drawing first and asked the patient about her creation. The patient calmly looked up and said "it's her" pointing to me. What? How could this possibly be a picture of me? Where was the therapeutic value? Confused the social worker asked for a little clarification. This little one explained the two circles were of course my eyes with my eye lashes, the black line was my nose and the red was my hair...duh.
This child wasn't traumatized at all and after taking some time to color she quickly warmed up to me and the other staff. Her play remained normal and she showed no signs of distress during the rest of her hospitalization. I was reminded that kids just need the opportunity to be kids and, if we over analyze their play, we may miss that special moment where the drawing is just an expression of friendship.
I can't help but wonder if those eyes are beautiful art or a sign I need to get more sleep. Either way I will treasure the picture and remember that the work of children must be respected, but never over analyzed or judged.