Art is an enjoyable, entertaining and enriching part of the lives of young people everywhere. For the young men and women who participate in the X-Streams art therapy program, it is a powerful tool to help them regain lost ground and deal with troubling mental health issues.
As trained art therapist Ellen Sallows explains, ‘It is the process of producing art that is the key to art therapy, rather than the product.
‘Each piece of art is a developmental journey that parallels the journeys our young people are taking in their lives.
‘To start, to anticipate and plan progress, to control yourself and the medium, to encounter difficulties and deal with them appropriately and to persevere until something is completed – these are developmental experiences that many of our young people, with their turbulent pasts, may not have had the chance to practice.’
Ellen explains how each aspect of an art therapy program can be tailored to the developmental stage of young people, how photography can be a way to experience the world through the security of a viewfinder, how puppetry can be a safe vehicle for role play and how drawing can be a journey starting with representing inanimate objects, then animals and finally to re-engaging with people.
Along with the input from the X-Streams case workers, the support workers and carers, in the houses and the psychologist, feedback from art therapy provides a fuller understanding of a young person’s current progress and issues at the weekly team meetings.
‘We have had some of our young people for nearly two years now,’ says Ellen.
‘When they first came to art therapy, many were in pure survival mode, completely reactive, isolated, frantic and destructive. The same young people today are much more comfortable within themselves with the confidence to plan and undertake art projects, the resilience to meet the inevitable setbacks and the perseverance to see them through.’
And though the changes in the young people and their behaviour is the real product of art therapy and the other care and supports that are provided at X-Streams, it is hard to look past the remarkable quality of work on display and documented in the recently published book, Keys.
‘Certainly, the recognition and praise the artists have had from their peers and from the community has benefited their self-esteem,’ says Ellen.
X-Streams is a residential care program proved by Baptist Care (SA) for young people 14-17 years.