FEATURE All Heroes Wear Masks

Nina Tara (M.A), Art Psychotherapist at Chroma Therapies, explains how creative therapy intervention for children can help vulnerable children to cope with the enforced mask- wearing brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sessions allowed each family member to explore their own spaces and identities within the group dynamic, allowing them to reveal thoughts and feelings they may find hard to express, or may not be aware of, and which may be being expressed through more difficult behaviours.

Participants reported enthusiasm for the project and found it helped them in their everyday life. Its simple delivery, executed in a fun and imaginative way, allowed the parent/carer and child to work together with the support of the art therapist.

The programme created an opportunity for greater communication, whilst gaining a deeper understanding of the child’s thoughts, anxieties and feelings about the lockdown and returning to school.

As a result, it helped to strengthen their relationship, especially around sharing emotions and feelings.

Mask-making was also successful in helping support the child in recognising their own strengths, in order for them to explore and build on their resilience and coping skills.

2020 has been full of uncertainties and change. One of the main changes society has experienced is mandatory mask- wearing. Mask-wearing changes the way people make sense of the ‘other’ person - their emotions and their expressions, as well as to express one’s own, not dissimilar to the way people may hide their own emotions behind an emotional mask.

Being unable to recognise other people’s expressions and emotions can cause anxiety within others as they attempt to navigate change and transition and this can especially be said for school-age children who may have suffered additional trauma in their early experiences.

With these concerns in mind, and with specific funding made available through the Adoption Support Fund, Chroma formulated a six-week, art therapy-based intervention.

The aim was to work with children and their carers together – to provide support during the period of the lockdown, to address emotions and challenges that were arising as a result, and to support the family relationships both every day and as they transitioned from lockdown back into society and school life.

Mask-making was used as a meeting point and as a tool to help children manage the impact of this time.

Sessions varied according to the family and their specific needs, but the creative focus remained consistent. The theme of superheroes was used to great effect with families in order to help them think about their own strengths and positive qualities.

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The project was undertaken to minimise the potential for feelings of anxiety and a lack of confidence and uncertainty on returning to school. The aim was also to help reframe the child’s relationship with masks and to reduce anxiety levels and support mental health. The superhero connotation helped positively portray masks.

By getting children to create their own superhero masks, they were better able to explore their emotions, strengths, resilience and identity, not only with family members but with themselves. Exploring emotions through fun, play, music and art also helped address the issues and anxiety felt concerning the current situation with COVID-19.

Children respond favourably when allowed to explore their emotions and anxieties in a fun, imaginative way. The art therapist was able to help them process those emotions and re-frame negative thoughts and issues in an age-appropriate and safe way.

Art therapy has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress, promote creativity and imagination as well as increase self- expression, confidence and communication. Its ability to help develop trust and positive relationships is also widely recognised. Using art therapy techniques within the container of the mask-making intervention was effective in helping children see the changes in society as a result of COVID-19 as less daunting and more, bearable.

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