Friday, June 22, 2007

Children and Art Therapy




When observing a child, one can typically see playfulness, smiles, laughter and sheer joy in the world around them.  Children live in the moment; every thought, every feeling, easily readable upon their faces.  That is why they are such a pleasure to watch.  We adults can relive those carefree, playful moments through them.  The child does not yet realize that the world can be a harsh and demanding place.  Until someone they love has died.  Their expressions are no less readable then.  When a child is grieving, one can typically see tears, fear, sadness and anger.  The world where they had once been carefree now has been shaken, and the unfailing trust they had in the world, has now been irrevocably altered. 


As a grief counselor, I feel for all of my clients in their pain, but it is the young people that affect me the most.  Logically, I know that children are not exempt from the pain of losing a loved one, but it still does not seem fair that their innocent world should be changed in such a way.  It saddens me to see a child who is so depressed that they seem to be physically trying to draw themselves inward, away from the world.  Or so sad that they cannot muster a smile, or enthusiasm, for the things that once brought them happiness.  Also, to see a child so angry; anger that can be seen in their eyes, in their defiant manner, in their abusiveness to their siblings and friends.  Children are often frustrated by these feelings because they do not like feeling this way, but are unable to stop or understand it.


Depending on the age of the child, they are often unable to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  This inability to express their emotions can lead to behavioral and health issues.  Many of the children that come to us complain of headaches and stomachaches, and the parents, or teachers, usually describe a decline in study habits and acting out behaviors.  It is critical that a child has support and help to be able to externalize these internal thoughts and feelings. 


Art therapy is an excellent way to connect with children and give them an opportunity to express their emotions in a safe and healthy way.  Our support groups and individual counseling sessions are designed to offer these opportunities to young people.  Through the use of creativity, the children can become involved in a variety of art projects that help give voice to what they are feeling.  It never ceases to amaze me when a young person is very reluctant to talk to me, yet when they become involved in an art project, I can see them visibly relax and they are able to open up and share.  For the very young, I think they even take themselves by surprise when they realize they are offering more than they had intended. 


Any time I work with young people, I am humbled and privileged by the act of their choosing to trust me with their most painful and personal thoughts and feelings.   I know it can be difficult for a parent to be able to offer honest information regardingdying, death and grief, so often it is just avoided in the home.  I try to offer an environment where the young people know this is the place where they can come and ask anything they need to without fear of being shut down or judged.  Through my experiences, I feel that children are capable of hearing the truth, in an age appropriate manner – and even appreciate being given the information. 


I would like to share a recent case that was very rewarding to me.  I have been working with an eight-year-old girl who lost her father to cancer.  Through our sessions, and the use of art therapy, she has been able to share her anger toward God, her frustrations at being the eldest sibling and her inability to focus at school due to her sadness.  During one of our most recent sessions, we were making beaded bracelets.  Most young people make bracelets for family members, friends or in memory of their loved one.  She made a bracelet for me!  The bracelet stood for “creativity”, “love”, and “strength.”  When I asked why she picked out those words for me she explained, “Creativity – because you are creative and always think of fun things for us to do.  Love – because you have to have lots of love to be able to do this kind of work and want to help other people who are hurting.  And Strength – because you gained strength after your mom died.”  Wow!  Her mother also shared that she is using the same concepts she learned in our Children’s Support Group to help a friend who is struggling with a loss.  Wow! 


This is what it is all about.  Helping a young person put a smile back on their face.  Helping them learn resiliency and to regain the ability to reinvest in life.  Helping them learn to identify and externalize their thoughts and feelings.  Helping them learn healthy coping strategies.  If you get a bracelet and a hug also, well that just sweetens the pot. 


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Are you a pet owner?


If you are a pet owner, then you already know how intertwined our pets can be in our daily lives.  It’s often not until they are gone do we truly realize how much of our daily lives they were a part of.  This can be particularly true if in our pet’s final days, they were very sick and required extensive care from us.  Pet owners may feel their pet’s loss most acutely when it was time to be fed and their pets performed special rituals that we adored in order to be fed, on their terms and on their schedule.  Another time that their loss can be acutely felt is when we arrived home from a long day at work and our pets had a special way of greeting us at the door, and seemed to wipe out the stress of our busy day.  Then again, as we relaxed during the evening and our pets came for the daily snuggle or cuddle.  Or finally, when it was bed time and we couldn’t get to sleep without feeling the warmth and heaviness of their bodies lying across our legs, or on our bladders.  Most of us not daring to disturb our pets, or their comfort, in spite of our discomfort.  It is this kind of care and devotion to our special pets that we miss when they are gone.


You need support for this loss, just as in any other type of loss.  You need to talk about your pet, share your memories and your pictures, with anyone who will listen and appreciate how special your pet was.   Pet loss support groups are ideal for this kind of support.  I have personally experienced a unique difference in people who have experienced a pet loss versus a human loss.  Pet owners almost always bring pictures of their pets to the first visit of a counseling session, or on the first day of group, to share with others and to tell the story of their beloved pet.  As pet owners we want everyone to know why this pet was so special. 


As an animal lover, I say that all pets are special.  In support of my opinion, current marketing statistics reveal that more people are treating their pets like family members, in particular, like their own children.  As such, more veterinarians, and their staff, are becoming trained in anticipatory grief and bereavement support for their clients. 


If the veterinary facilities are lacking this type of support, a pet owner who has suffered a loss, has the option of calling a variety of pet loss hotlines.  To list a few:  Tufts University Pet Loss Support Hotline, Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 508-839-7966, or;  CONTACT of Burlington County, New Jersey, 24 hour access, 800-404-7387 for NJ residents and 800-234-4688 for all others; Iams Pet Loss Support Center and Hotline, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 888-332-7738; Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Pet Loss Support Hotline, 630-325-1600, all long distance phone calls will be returned collect.


In addition, many companies are offering different products to address the varying needs of the grieving pet owner community.  There are many options to choose from such as a memorial quilt made with pictures of their pet, scrapbooking, journaling, memory boxes, plantings, memorial service or a burial with a special statue or stone.  Memorial Markers can be found at and memorial candles can be found at If your pet was cremated, another popular trend is wearing jewelry that contains a portion of the pet’s cremains or having a stone made with the cremains.  One site that offers this service is  A pet owner may even want to make a donation to an animal shelter, university, or an organization that is conducting research on a specific disease or disorder,  in the pet’s memory. 


At this time, I would like to invite anyone who is in the area to participate in our next scheduled Pet Loss Support Group.  It will be held Monday, June 18, 2007 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice building at 99 Sparta Avenue, Newton, NJ 07860.  There is a $5.00 registration fee, and pre-registration is required.  This will be a time of sharing and support and one of the topics for discussion will be the use of journaling as a way to help with the grief, and as a way to honor and remember your pet.


Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.




P.S.  If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center.  We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community.  As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.