Developing therapeutic interventions in school

Posted on: 03 Jul 2018
Posted by: James Wilding

James Wilding, principal at Claires Court School, writes about the therapeutic value of the arts.

Independent counselling services have been embedded at Claires Court for many years. I was aware of the therapeutic value of elements of the school curriculum, with art, drama, music, sports and workshop activities assisting in their own unique ways to help pupils feel better about themselves during periods of crisis.

In appointing our first artist-in-residence, Frances Ackland-Snow, we were able to expand the provision of art education at secondary and sixth form level, and added the arts award as a way pupils could achieve validation for their efforts outside the classroom. In the autumn of 2013, Frances returned to college in her own time to pursue an introductory certificate in Counselling Skills for Children Using the Arts at the Institute for Arts in Therapy & Education (IATE). She returned to school with numerous ideas which have further developed our use of the art rooms on all three sites here as areas for reflection and creativity outside of hours, before school commences, over lunch breaks and after school.

By 2015, Frances had named her provision the OASIS club, and attracted a strong following amongst her students, with the arts award inspiring students to go for bronze and silver. Parallel developments elsewhere, such as the supported by the Duchess of Cambridge gave us the confidence to ask three of those who had benefited most to work with Frances to publish a book documenting our journey, and the book was published that autumn, entitled ‘Art is a time for freedom’... One 13-year-old boy wrote at the time “Art is a universal language spoken at any place and at any time, read by millions of eyes around the world. A million stories are told in the stroke of a brush. It doesn’t matter what it looks like – the only thing that matters is what it makes you feel. Once you enter the world of art, you become art and art becomes you!”

Paul Bell, winner of the BBC Big Painting challenge helped launch the book and was was really quite moved by the quality of the 43 boys' work - as well as the conversation that surrounded their work - and that brought it home to us all that art had indeed transformed many of the young artists' mental health for the better.

Since then, we have expanded our arts support across all sites, and it’s been interesting to see how much dovetailing goes on with our other therapeutic services. We have increased the number of school nurses to 6, to provide different faces for the range of ages and stages in the school, present from before school starts for parents and pupils to visit and have a chat. We have developed this in part because families have become increasingly distanced from such services with their local GP, and in part because the nurses themselves are well known friendly faces with whom boys and girls easily confide. Furthermore, we now have regular visits from our attached clinical psychologist, with whom staff, pupils and parents can make dialogue when symptoms such as anxiety and depression seem to be getting more serious.

For the last three years, art as therapy services at Claires Court have stretched further, to include a trial ‘Canvas cafe’ after school, where both artist and councillor in residence have attended to support older pupils extend the benefits their art and creative activities give them.

Supported by school, Frances Ackland-Snow plans to return to IATE for one day a week for the next four years, to raise her qualifications further, initially with a postgraduate Certificate in the Therapeutic Arts, and then through the Advanced Diploma in the Therapeutic and Educational Application of the Arts to MA. I have no doubt whatsoever, that medication is not the cure for most of the changing sea of troubles we bear witness today at school. Intelligent design, with art therapy being one of our core well-being strategies is the way forward… ...though I did not mention our Musicathon this coming Friday, involving the entire girls school landscape from 5 to 16 did I? Now Music, that’s another skill in the toolkit!

16_01_21 James Wilding

About James Wilding

James Wilding is academic principal at Claires Court School