Does your child have selective mutism? Are you considering therapy for your child? If so then art therapy might be the perfect plan for your child. To help understand how art therapy can help a child with selective mutism and what a typical session would be like, I have interviewed therapist Karen C. Lewis, LMFT, LCSW, PIP.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Alexander City, Alabama at Lake Martin Family Therapy. I earned a bachelors in psychology from Louisiana State University and a Master’s of Science in Social Work with a specialization in marriage and family therapy from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. The focus of my training was collaborative, systemic and narrative in nature”.
What are the signs and symptoms of selective mutism in children?
“Children with selective mutism fail to speak in specific social situations and this often occurs before the age of five. This failure to speak is frequently associated with an anxiety, embarrassment or social phobia. Sometimes the children possess some compulsive traits with a negative, oppositional type attitude. It is often found in children of one Hispanic parent and one English speaking European American parent.”
How can art therapy help children who have selective mutism?
“Art therapy is an excellent way to allow children to express themselves without feeling pressured to use words. One child I worked with liked to create story boards by creating a drawing within a square, and then added several more much like comic strips. The use of toys and sand/rice boxes also allows children to express themselves nonverbally while the therapist earns trust.”
What would a typical art therapy session be like for a child who has selective mutism?
“There is no typical art therapy session; they are tailored to the individual child. Getting a good history about family and other social experiences, narrowing down to whom and where the child will speak and initially engaging a person who the child trusts and talks with helps the child to form an alliance and experience trust with the therapist. For instance, I worked with a 6 year old boy of above average intelligence that would only speak to his mother. She was engaged in the first few sessions and he talked through his mother while observing that his mother trusted the therapist. Then slowly the therapist would direct the child to face a direction between the therapist and mother to speak gradually moving closer to speaking directly to the therapist. This slow behaviorally reinforced therapy involves knowing the child’s passions and interests to keep the child interested and engaged. All of this occurs while playing with magnetic darts, card games, drawing, playing foam basketball, any game that acts as a distraction from the actual goal of the therapy session which is allowing the child a feeling of success in being able to speak with one other person. Eventually the person he allows in his speaking world grows to include everyone. Art work of the child is an added source of information showing closeness or distance of parents, where and with whom anxiety occurs for the child. Rice box activities might involve the child choosing figures to represent the people in their lives allowing the therapist to see who is a source of comfort versus a source of anxiety.”
What advice would you like to leave for a parent is considering in having their child who has selective mutism participate in art therapy?
“Art therapy is the most effective way of engaging children in therapy for any problem. Art therapy is especially productive in children with selective mutism as it is a way for them to communicate and express strengths, problems and sources of anxiety without actually speaking. They can also visualize their life in the speaking world through art and see the benefits of working on social skills and learning coping skills for reducing anxiety. Collaboration with the extended family and school personnel is key in getting the child consistently reinforced for any movement towards speaking. Children are often rewarded for being quiet and as such non-disruptive in class where in the situation of a selectively mute child the opposite needs to be rewarded. Saying “Here” when roll is called is reason to celebrate and the beginning of breaking the bond of fear and mutism.”
Thank you Karen for doing the interview on how art therapy can help a child with selective mutism. For more information on Karen C. Lewis or her work you can check out her website on www.lakemartinfamilyherapy.com.
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