Children’s Drawings: Drawing as Therapy

Children's Drawings Drawing as Therapy

Psychotherapy in children through children’s drawings.

Psychotherapy in children through children's drawings.


The importance of drawing as therapy is nothing new. The importance of drawing in the treatment of emotional disorders has been known for years. Children’s drawings are a very useful tool, especially in children’s psychotherapy .

It is about using art in general, and drawing in particular, as a therapeutic tool. Through drawing we are going to try to bring the child’s unconscious feelings closer to a level where they are conscious.

So the subject can explore and get to know them. Through children’s drawings , a great variety of emotional situations can be manifested: frustration, rejection, jealousy , love, hatred, envy , fear and endless feelings.

But it is also through drawing the child can relive real experiences. These experiences appear mixed with his own fantasies. And thanks to that overflowing fantasy you can get to know what is happening in the child’s world. We can know what is going on inside you, what you keep hidden, and find out what is happening in your life.

The child can sometimes fantasize about things that have never happened in reality. However, they live them as if they actually happened. On many occasions these experiences are jealously guarded inside. This leads to strange behaviors that are difficult to explain in the eyes of parents or relatives.

These imaginary fantasies often cause fear or feelings of anguish in the child . As long as these fantasies do not come to light for analysis, they cannot be ended.

Children drawing – A form of therapy

Exploration of the unconscious through drawing.

Faced with a traumatic or painful event, the child will feel bad, whether he does not talk about it, or if he verbalizes what has happened. For him, telling the traumatic event in words is like reliving it again.

This situation forces the therapist to have to address the problems in an indirect way. You should avoid causing the child pain by reliving the traumatic experience. This forces you to be extremely respectful to get traumatic events to light.

At this point is where children’s drawings take on vital importance. The child can draw all the monsters that populate and terrify his interior. But when drawing he will keep a distance in which he does not feel threatened.

Children’s drawings: a safe escape valve.

Through drawing, the child expresses his terrors, but since his characters are the result of his own creation, he maintains control over that threatening world at all times and thus avoids reliving the horror of emotional trauma. Little by little the child transfers his terrors to his creative work, thus relieving his inner tension.

Children’s drawings act as an escape valve in the child’s unconscious, but it is a safe valve that allows him to dose the internal pressure.

Through drawing and painting we allow feelings to manifest themselves through color and shapes. The drawing is your feelings made art. It is a way of bringing out the deepest part of the human being.

Children’s drawings tend a link between the hidden and the real, the unconscious and the conscious. For this therapeutic process to be successful, it is extremely necessary to create a safe space for the child.

The drawing or drawing-therapy room will act as a retaining wall for children’s fears. It is a space where the child feels safe. Here you can start this transfer of emotions through drawing, which is ultimately the healing process.

Play as a precursor to therapy through drawing.

Melanie Klein: Su vida.

Melanie Reizes was born in Vienna in 1882, on March 30, under the sign of Aries. She was the daughter of a Jewish family of Ukrainian origin (in those years the territory was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

One day after her twenty-first birthday, she married and changed her last name from Reizes to that of her husband: Klein.

At the age of four his sister Sidonie died of tuberculosis. The deceased sister had always tried to instill in young Melanie a love of mathematics and a taste for reading.

After turning fourteen, he decided to study medicine, with the idea of ​​later dedicating himself to psychiatry. She found a good supporter in her brother Enmanuel who helped her and paved the way for her to start her university studies in Vienna.

A few years later, she falls in love with Arthur S. Klein, a friend of her brother Enmanuel, and becomes engaged to him. Drop out of Medicine studies and show interest in other fields such as art and history.

In 1900 his father died and two years later his brother Enmanuel with whom he had a close relationship. Three years later, in 1903, he married at the age of 21. In 1906 her son Hans was born and she began with a deep depressive state.

In 1914 his son Erich was born and his mother died. Her depression worsens and she begins psychoanalytic treatment with Sandor Ferenczi and takes a keen interest in the work of Sigmund Freud.

In 1918 she was very impressed after attending a psychoanalytic congress and decided to dedicate herself entirely to psychoanalysis. Specifically, he focuses all his attention on the study of children, demonstrating a great ability to understand them.

Pioneer of child therapy through play.

In the development of the game as an instrument of therapy, one of the pioneers was  Melanie Klein , who was one of the first disciples of Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.

M. Klein discovered by analyzing children’s play that the objects they use in play have a variety of symbolic meanings that are linked to their fantasy and desires. We can say that he discovered the symbolic game and how to access the unconscious through the interpretation of the game. Quoting Melanie Klein literally:

“ Through symbolic play, a great variety of emotional situations can be expressed: for example, situations of frustration and rejection, jealousy, pleasure, love, hate, anxiety, feelings of guilt…, as well as the repetition of real experiences and details of everyday life, often interwoven with his fantasies. 

She also noted the relief boys and girls feel when playing, to be able to express their fears and fantasies through play, as well as to achieve a certain mastery over frustrating reality. We could safely say that “The game transforms the anguish of the normal subject into pleasure.”

Melanie Klein used play as part of therapy.

Donald Winnicott.

Another of the precursors of the game as a form of therapy was  Donald Winnicott , an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst who became interested in psychoanalysis when he met Ernest Jones psychoanalyst and writer.

Pediatrician and psychoanalyst.

Donald Winnicott was born on April 7, 1896 in the city of Plymouth, under the sign of Aries, like his colleague Melanie Klein. The son of a wealthy family, he studied Medicine at the University of Cambridge. In 1920 he obtained the title of Doctor of Medicine. He specialized in pediatrics and began working with children in 1923 at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital in London.

In this year he married his first wife and became involved in psychoanalysis, beginning his personal analysis with James Strachey. Later, he would supervise his cases with Melanie Klein. He divorced his wife and married a psychoanalyst in 1951.

He devoted himself, with great success to pediatrics, combining this activity with psychoanalysis for more than forty years. He joined the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1927.

He fought with all his might against electroconvulsive therapy, so fashionable in the 1940s. In 1971, at the age of 75, he died after suffering a myocardial infarction.

Winnicott is well known for his work with children both in the hospital and in his private practice. With the children he used therapy through play , and it is very interesting how he used “el garabato” (scribbles that the children or himself made) during the same.

Winnicott established a clear difference between the “game” or game with rules and the “play” or free play, which was what he induced the children to do.

The transitional object.

In an article of his entitled “The use of an object” he relates that at the end of the consultation, he gave an object to the child at the time of leaving (for example, a paper boat that he had just made), that is, he took something from the “consultation” and told the child that he could do whatever he wanted with it, even break it or throw it away.

The symbolism of this gesture constitutes another of his contributions, the concept of “transitional object”. This “transitional object” can be a stuffed animal, a blanket, your pillow, a piece of cloth, and so on.

The transitional object is required by the child, in the early years of child development, when he is distressed, when he is sad, when he is alone, when he is afraid, etc., in short, a transitional object is any object that provides him with peace of mind in life. “difficult” situations that you have to face.

Donald Winnicott brought the term “the transitional object” to therapy

For Winnicott “psychotherapy occurs in two play areas: that of the patient and that of the therapist. It is related to two people playing together ”. From this concept, the person who plays with the child also plays an important role from the moment that either encourages play, or can vary it.

Quoting Winnicott himself:

“… Play is in itself a therapy. When girls and boys play, there must be responsible people nearby, without this meaning that they have to intervene in the game. When the game is not possible, the work of the therapist is oriented to take the patient from a state in which he cannot play to one in which it is possible for him to do so. “

Serge  Lebovici.

Another precursor in this matter was the psychoanalyst  Serge Lebovici,  recognized as one of the greatest champions of Child Psychiatry.

Serge Lebovici was born in Paris on June 10, 1915. His parents were immigrants of Romanian origin. He studied medicine and specialized in psychiatry, being a full professor of Child Psychiatry at the University of Paris. He joined the psychoanalyst current, defending the most classical positions, in open confrontation with his compatriot Jacques Lacan.

He wrote works such as “The new treatment of child psychiatry” or “The infant, the mother and the psychoanalyst.” He died in 2000 in Paris at the age of 85. He dedicated a large part of his life to the study of the affective bonds between the baby and his mother.

For Lebovici, ” an activity like play , which has such an obvious importance in the eyes of the child, must be considered as the expression of the organization of his personality.” Children repeat in their games everything in life that has made an intense impression on them, and in this way they seek a liberation to the energy accumulated by impression, making themselves, so to speak, masters of the situation.

Serge Lebovici studied the links between the baby and his mother


About children’s play, Freud wrote:  

“Every boy or girl who plays behaves like a poet, creating his own world, or, more exactly, placing the things of his world in a new order, pleasing to him.”

Since we are born, we play. Through play we relate to the world and grow. The game helps to develop intelligence, motor skills and integration in the group.

Schoolchildren who have not been able to develop the ability to play are known to have serious behavior problems that can lead to serious illnesses. Play is childhood work, a way of exploring and mastering the external world, and a way of exploring and mastering anxiety by expressing and elaborating it through fantasy.

Gambling is also presented as a competitive activity. We must not forget the need of the child in permanent change, to acquire elements of identity, confronting others, with their peers.

The game allows us to express forbidden wishes. Imagine the degree of anxiety generated by feeling anger and anger towards loved ones. It is better to preserve and protect the image of loved ones as much as possible from aggressive content and externalize it in the game.

Children’s drawings: A form of play and therapy.

Children's drawings A form of play and therapy.

Games, children’s drawings and psychotherapy.

The relationship between play and therapy through drawing or painting is direct if we consider children’s drawings as play situations. Is there a difference between creating any kind of image and playing games?

The creation of images puts us in a situation in which everything is possible. In the act of drawing, all the emotions and feelings that the person is capable of supporting are concentrated.

The drawing workshop is a zone of experimentation very similar to life. If it becomes a safe enough place, perhaps we can allow ourselves to manifest in it everything that in real life would be much more difficult for us.

For the schoolboy, drawing is thinking, and the possibility of modifying his own graphics encourages him to repeat the experience over and over again. For him, children’s drawings are a means of expression and communication.

Drawing is one of the most pleasant, spontaneous and innocent manifestations that exist. From the artistic expression he transmits his emotions, tells what he is learning, shows the world that surrounds him and what his relationship with it is like.

Boy playing with pictures

The value of free drawing, without a model, is immense. The author makes a true creation and can express everything that is within himself. In doing so, it gives us a vision of the world around it. In this way, you inform us about your personal situation.

Spontaneous drawing reveals many things to us in addition to its intellectual level. In particular, he informs us of his emotional life and his internal world.

Drawing-based tests.

One of the practical applications of drawing are personality tests. Thus we have the family test or the human figure test (HFD). These tests are interpreted based on the laws of projection. They are quick to perform and interpret (30 minutes). They are usually well received by girls, boys and adolescents. They can be done from 5 or 6 years old.

For its application only requires a table, paper and pencil. The professional will remain with the subject at all times. This way you can assess the way the drawing is constructed. In other words, the professional must assess:

  • the order in which family members are drawn.
  • Time used to draw each character.
  • The care put into the drawings.
  • See if there is an obsessive tendency to always return to the same point.
  • Both the process carried out and the final result are of interest.
  • When the drawing is finished, the test is not concluded. It is necessary to comment on what you have done or better, what you have wanted to do.

The Human Figure Test can be applied from 5 or 6 years

Observing several drawings of the family or the HFD obtained in a time interval, can reveal any change in the patient’s attitude towards himself and others, as well as in his psychomotor and intellectual attitudes.

It follows, in this way, that children’s drawings can serve not only as the subsequent therapy but also as a method to evaluate the progress of the  treatment of schoolchildren  with emotional problems.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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