stuffed owl made from a sock

How Does Art Therapy Work? Part 2: Product

Art therapy is a way to build a client’s pocket knife for life, so that they have the tools they need to creatively overcome the challenges they face. 

Sometimes the art PROCESS is how we build the client’s internal tool kit during their session. You can read more about that here

Other times, the art PRODUCT is the tool that the client creates during their session to take home with them. The art product helps the client to internally cope and overcome the challenge. 

For example, let’s imagine that a child is coming to art therapy because they are struggling with anxiety. Their mind is racing with all kinds of worries, making it difficult to fall asleep at night. 

When the child comes to art therapy, one of the things we might do together is to make a sock owl worry helper. I show the child an example, explain the concept, and then ask if they would like to make one. 

Here’s how I might explain the concept of the sock owl for a child: 

“Sometimes when it’s time to go to bed, that’s when all of our worries seem to jump into our head. It’s hard to fall asleep when our minds are full of all those worries. But my friend the sock owl can help with this. Owls are nocturnal, which means that they stay awake all night. And this little owl has a very important job at night. See this special pouch on its back? This pouch is a safe place for your worries. You can use these little cards to record all of your worries. Then, you can place them inside the owl’s special safe pouch. The owl will hold on to your worries for you and keep them safe all night. You can relax and rest easy knowing that the owl will stay awake and will watch over you and your worries until morning.”

If the child likes this idea, then I help them to make their own sock owl worry helper. They select the sock they would like to use, cut it, glue it together, stuff it, and decorate it. They can personalize and accessorize their owl, making it their own. Then we attach the special pouch. 

The special pouch is an essential feature!

We also make some worry cards, and record some of the child’s worries. This is a great opportunity to talk about the child’s anxiety, and to provide some psycho-education, correcting, or reassuring if appropriate. 

Here are a few worries that children might be carrying. Worries can be recorded in pictures and/or words.

I make sure to send home lots of blank worry cards, and encourage the child to use as many as they need each night. 

Often, children suggest that they will keep their sock owl on their bedside table or under their pillow at night. 

At the end of the session, we introduce the sock owl to the child’s caregiver. Together we explain the concept, and invite the caregiver to help with using the sock owl at night if needed. 

Here’s another little sock owl. The possibilities for decoration and personalizing are endless!

In my experience, children love this art activity. They are very open to the idea of having a cute, squishy worry helper to take home. The soft, textile materials used to make the owl provide some sensory comfort. And the physical act of recording the worries and then placing them safely inside the special pouch helps children to understand the process of externalizing and letting go of worry in a concrete way that works with their developmental stage of thinking. 

In this example, the art PRODUCT (the sock owl) is a physical, external tool that the client can use to help with their goal of managing anxiety at bedtime. Through the process of making the sock owl during the session, the client is also building some internal, abstract tools like externalizing anxiety, accepting help, and talking about their worries. 

This is just one example of an art product that can be used as a tool to help a client overcome a challenge or meet a goal. The art product can be adjusted based on the client’s age, developmental stage, and interests. For instance, an older child might prefer to make some pipe cleaner worry helpers instead of a sock owl. 

pipe cleaner characters made with straws and beads
Here are some pipe cleaner worry helpers.

The art product can go home with the client, and can remind the client of the things that we talked about together during the session. In this way it also functions as a transitional object. 

Through the powerful combination of PROCESS and PRODUCT, art therapy is an excellent way to build a client’s tool kit. They can leave art therapy feeling confident and well-equipped to creatively overcome challenges. And that, from my perspective, is how art therapy works.  

Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT. 

P.S. The original idea for the sock owl was inspired by a post I saw on Pinterest – here’s a link. I adapted the idea slightly so that I could use it in an art therapy context. Thank you so much for the inspiration, Scrapina! 

pinterest graphic with sock owl and title of blog post

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January 10, 2021 at 10:16 am

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