Reasons for Referral to Art Therapy

There are many different reasons why people seek Art Therapy and each person comes with a unique experience and concern. You may wonder if your difficulties could benefit from an Art Therapy intervention. Here are some of the conditions that Karen Sawyer has worked with. This list is not exhaustive but it does illustrate the variety of problems that bring people to Art Therapy.

Post Trauma

Trauma can result from experiencing or witnessing physical, sexual or emotional harm which is felt to be life threatening, it can have a devastating impact.

Self Harm

When a person intentionally hurts themselves. This can provide a way to relieve distressing feelings; it can also be a way of communicating psychological pain in a very shocking way and can vary greatly in its intensity.

School Difficulties

Trouble with peer relationships, attention and focus, anxiety and apprehension or lacking confidence

Friendship difficulties

Struggling to make or maintain friendships, or regular conflict in relationships can start to affect children’s school performance and happiness


Experiencing bullying at any age can be very challenging, often resulting in feelings of confusion and impacting on self esteem

Transition to new schools

The many changes that occur during school transtions can be very unsettling for children and young people and if not dealt with promptly can lead to longer term issues

Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with ASD, usually in their middle school years. Issues with anxiety, verbal communication and social relating can have a big impact on children and young people’s confidence and their mood.

Support for Young Carers

Children and young people who care for a member of their family who may have an illness, a physical or learning disability, or a mental health, drug or alcohol problem can become caregivers within their family. The care can vary in degree and duration. However supporting another person emotionally and practically can impact on a child’s emotional development and educational achievement.

Looked After Children

Children who are being cared for by a local authority whether they are in foster placement, living with extended family or in residential units will have had challenging life experiences. Their experiences both before and during their time in Care, can have a significant impact on their social, and emotional development as well as their mental health.


When we have stressful or upsetting experiences we can react with feelings of sadness and low mood, this is a normal reaction. However, when you can’t seem to shake off these feelings, when they start to interfere with your whole life, it can become an illness. Depression is thought to occur in about 1-3% of children and young people. It is more common in older adolescents, particularly teenage girls, but can affect children of any age.

Family difficulties

There are times in every family when stressful events impact on our ability to respond and react calmly and rationally. Children can be sensitive to stress, however depending on their age and stage of development, they may not be able to express their concerns verbally. Often their first response to stress is to react in a behavioural way to stress, so you may see their behaviour changing. Having space to think about the emotional impact and having a neutral safe space can alleviate the stress and improve the responses.


Feeling fearful or worried from time to time is a natural response to stress. However, sometimes children and young people can have such strong feelings of anxiety that it affects the way they live and everyday lives. Anxiety can be an underlying difficulty masked by behaviour issues and can impact on school attendance, being separated from parents, being fearful of specific things or being in social situations. Children who are on the Autistic Spectrum can struggle with anxiety alongside other emotional difficulties.


Children who are more prone to bullying, school difficulties or challenges within their relationships can also be affected by worrying. Developing confidence and self esteem and emotional resilience can reduce the worrying thoughts and strengthen their ability to bounce back from episodes of worry.


Children grow and develop at a fast pace. Their stages of development involve learning from the responses that they have to the world and the reactions they receive. Aggressive behaviour can become more problematic when it doesn’t diminish and is generalised to different settings. Art therapy can enable change, allowing development of emotional regulation and tolerance to frustration.


It is a natural part of growing up that we work out what we need to fear and what is safe, for example spiders usually cause fear. Children grow out of most of their fears as they develop. However when that fear becomes heightened and affects the child’s day to day existence then it may have become a phobia. Phobia’s often lead to extreme anxiety and avoidance behaviours.


When someone close to us dies, we experience something called grief. Grief can take the form of feelings, thoughts or sensations in our bodies. It can be a very confusing time. Feelings can change quickly and without much warning and we can lose our motivation and desire to do the things we used to enjoy. All of these experiences are normal for grieving but can add to the worry. Often children can have lots of questions which they are uncertain about asking especially when the grown up’s in their lives may be dealing with their own grief.


All of us experience conflicts during our lifetime. Conflicts are a natural part of human relationships and somewhat inevitable. Simply put, conflict occurs with another person because of our difference; we have different values, opinions, personalities, and different needs. It is not simply the conflict that affects our relationships but how we respond and manage the conflict. Learning how to manage conflict is an important part of our development. Many families are affected by conflict, and sometimes this can have an impact on the children, resulting in emotional or behavioural difficulties.


Good self-esteem provides a fundamental building block for children. It is about liking yourself, and knowing your strengths and what you are good at. It enables us to feel secure enough to take on new challenges, to solve problems and to navigate difficulties. Children with low self esteem are fearful of failure and will struggle to ‘give things a go’, lack confidence and feel like they are never as good as other children.

Emotional difficulties

As humans we all experience a range of feelings and emotions. As adults we experience both positive and negative emotions, children and teenagers are no different. Anger, for example, is not wrong or bad but a normal human emotion. It is not the emotion which leads to problems, but the way we handle it. Children may exhibit behaviour such as temper tantrums or aggression which are very noticeable, however extreme shyness, withdrawal and passivity can also be concerning.  Along with these behaviours children can struggle to control their emotional states or express them in an appropriate manner.

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COVID-19 Update

Following the latest announcement from the Government and the restrictions imposed due to the 3rd National Lockdown, we are constantly reviewing and adapting our service delivery within the guidance.

We want to do everything we can to continue to keep everyone as safe as possible especially our clients, therapists and their families whilst also maintaining the support we provide.

We have had to limit our current offerings which are being delivered remotely. As soon as it is deemed safe to return to face to face work we will be offering this and will continue to offer remote access for those families who may need to continue in that way.


We will be providing updates on our website. If you have any questions, please contact us directly.

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