Art Therapy can be, for many children and their families a way to express their emotions when it is hard to verbalise how they are feeling. 

Here at Demelza, our Art Therapist, Rachel Turner, ensures that every child at Demelza can participate in art; working within their capabilities to encourage their creativity. Rachel explains, “it is also important to give family members the time to think about the difficult feelings they have whilst caring for a child with a serious or terminal condition”.

Through a sit-down Q&A, Rachel shares an insight into her role at Demelza:

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I’m an Art Therapist and I make art myself - I like painting and sculpture and over lockdown I tried my hand at stitching and embroidery! I specialised in sculpture at university; being able to make things is what I like to do and it is my passion.

Tell us about your background and what led you to your role at Demelza?

I studied Fine Art at university, making my own artwork was good to express my own emotions, thoughts and ideas at the time. Upon completing my degree, I worked at a specialist school for children with additional needs and volunteered at Demelza at the same time. I really enjoyed being part of the therapies team when volunteering and seeing the difference it made for the families.

I would run art workshops for children staying at Demelza for respite, whilst the Art Therapist held their therapy session - I wanted to continue allowing children to express themselves. Demelza really supported me in training as an art therapist; which led to me becoming a permanent member of their team in 2019, when I graduated with a Masters in Art Psychotherapy.

Tell us about your average day (pre-pandemic):

On an average day I see three to four children and/or families for face-to-face sessions. This can be one or two referred sessions in the community or at the hospices. I will also see a couple of children that are staying for respite.

I spend some of my day calling families to set up sessions, prepping my art materials and tidying the art room where sessions take place. I speak to parents, to get a broader picture of their child’s and the family’s specific needs. I also speak to the Nursing and Care Team, Family Support and other professionals involved with the families to find out more about the children and family members.

How has this changed since the pandemic?

A lot of therapy services had to be moved online. During the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a lot of families come online for therapy and we took on more families who needed support - offering one-off sessions to engage and support children and family members.

Now, we have moved back to the standard referral process for particular families who need additional support for longer term online sessions of six to twelve weeks. At the start of the pandemic, I was predominantly based at our South East London Hospice, where I offered art therapy sessions to our emergency respite children, as well as those with us for end-of-life care. I have recently returned to working at our Kent hospice too.

What changes have you seen in the families you work with since COVID-19 began?

It’s been hard for families being even more isolated. The stress and worry of continued shielding and isolation are beginning to show - without having the support network of friends and family members, it’s intensified when you have a child with additional needs.

For a time, hospital appointments were no longer going ahead and the support networks or interventions weren’t available.

I feel that many of my referral cases over the past months, came at a time when the parents may have recognised changes in their child’s, the siblings, or their own mental wellbeing. For bereaved families it has been particularly tough - as their natural support network may not be able to be with them as they normally would have been when they are grieving for their child.

What do you find most challenging about your role?

The biggest challenge over the past year has been to keep art therapy accessible to families and working to facilitate online art therapy sessions; it can be hard ensuring families have appropriate art materials to use and making sure they feel safe talking online with a therapist at home.

Usually, in face-to-face sessions I would work privately with the child to offer them space to express themselves; when working online and the parent or carer is present (for safeguarding purposes) I have to make sure that the child and their family are comfortable with talking and answering questions, or sharing their thoughts, when together.

It’s always sad to work with families during end-of-life care or bereavement support; art therapists are trained to work with boundaries to help and support them. Naturally, some days are harder than others, and we have to reflect on the hard times and difficult emotions families bring to the sessions.

What are you most looking forward now lockdown restrictions have begun to ease?

At Demelza, I look forward to seeing referrals and families face-to-face, when this can happen safely. It has been really positive to overcome the challenges of the past year and see the positive impact of online art therapy sessions. It has also allowed me to reach more families that I perhaps wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.

I’m looking forward to giving the option to families for online or face-to-face sessions; art therapy service is very much family led.

Outside of Demelza, personally, I look forward to being able to spend more time socialise with my friends and family.

What is the most memorable thing you have ever seen a child/family do or say?

Once I made some artwork with a child at Demelza and this was used as part of their funeral. Artwork can have a lot of meaning and sentimental value, it is a privilege to know it meant a lot to the family and for it to be part of their child’s funeral and family memories.

Demelza is here to support parents in providing what each child needs, in the way that’s best for them. Our care services and facilities focus on promoting personal freedom and choice, giving Demelza children the chance to express themselves, have fun and feel involved without ever compromising safety. Read more about the services we provide.

Have you met Gemma, our Occupational Therapist? Find out more about how Gemma supports Demelza children and their families.

We want to be able to support more families in your local community, but we need your help to do this. Will you help by making a donation to The Nursing Appeal?