Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Dubai gets art therapy clinic to help troubled children

The Art Therapy International Centre has opeed at Al Hawai Tower, and has trained counsellors leading treatment.
Clinical therapist Andrew Wright. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Clinical therapist Andrew Wright. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
DUBAI // Providing psychological help to troubled children is becoming easier as the first art therapy clinic in Dubai sets up shop.

Studies point to a lack of trained child therapists in the UAE, and psychiatrists are in short supply.

At a discussion on health reforms this month, Dr Klaus Boecker, a consultant and health policy adviser in Abu Dhabi, said there was "plenty of scope for improvement" in psychiatry.

The Art Therapy International Centre has opened at Al Hawai Tower, near Dubai International Financial Centre.

Counsellors at the centre are leading the way with a new programme to help children overcome traumatic experiences.

Sara Powell, 31, is an art therapist who has seen successful methods in Singapore.

"The Government is doing a good job of educating people about mental health issues in the UAE, such as autism, but more can be done," she said.

"I see this industry at the beginning, with lots of areas that need work. Autism, addiction and eating disorders are key areas."

Art and play are proven methods to help children open up and help those with limited verbal skills communicate.

That is a starting point to allow clinicians an insight into their world, so that the right therapy can be provided. "This could be because the child is completely traumatised due to abuse or neglect," said Mrs Powell. "Kids will often draw through metaphor or fantasy to describe how they are feeling. They may draw a picture of a girl being hit by a monster, for example. That allows them to process that trauma in a safe way."

A high-functioning autistic boy, 11, found that drawing trains eased his anxiety.

He always felt different, imagining he had a condition much worse than autism.

He drew to show what it was like being autistic, so he could educate others and attain a sense of control.

Pashmi Khara, a psychologist resident in Al Barsha, said art therapy had been proven to work for children and could also be used to treat traumatised adults.

"People are beginning to realise that there is help to address problems they may have ignored in the past. The challenge now is leading them towards the correct services," she said.

The therapy can also be used to treat people with eating disorders.

Often, patients use art materials in a way that reflects their use of food. If they tend to overeat, they would use large quantities of paint in a parallel expression of their relationship with food.

Those with anorexia would use only a pencil and restrict the range of materials they use in the art therapy room. It helps clinicians understand their needs to help with rehabilitation.

"It is not important to be skilled at art, the therapy is there to facilitate the creative process. It can be quite liberating," said Andrew Wright, 40, an art therapist at the clinic.

"People with addiction problems can be quite defensive. Creativity is a form of escapism that young people can use instead of drugs or crime."

nwebster@thenational.ae

Updated: February 14, 2015 04:00 AM

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