In schools, we can (and should) provide lonely students with tailored individual assistance so they can develop social and emotional skills and improve mental health and wellbeing.
Individual Art Therapy sessions provide students with the opportunity for an authentic connection where they can use art to explore feelings, develop self-awareness and empathy, and ultimately relate better to others.
However adolescents cannot improve social skills on their own. They need to practise using these skills and awarenesses in real social situations. Group Art Therapy is an ideal setting for this to occur.
"We are social beings in a social world" said Dr Helen Street, at the 2016 Positive Schools Mental Health and Wellbeing conference. In her presentation on "Classroom Glue", Dr Street explained that social and emotional cohesion amongst a group of students can be created consciously.
It should be done when there is least cohesion, she says, such as at the formation of the group or beginning of the school year. Creating a sense of belonging is important. How much can the students identify with the class or group? It is important for the teacher or group facilitator to get to know the students, and let them know you a little. Use celebration and humour.
Nurture and develop cohesion openly and consciously through activities that involve collaborating, not competing, otherwise cliques will form. She suggests focusing on learning, not just achieving, and having social and emotional as well as academic goals.
A specific program such as Group Art Therapy can help students learn to manage emotions, feel and show empathy for others and establish and maintain positive relationships.
Lonely students may benefit from a Group Art Therapy program, where they can explore a sense-of-self, develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings and come to understand one's own and other people's motivations.
To create together can offer a supportive environment for processing stressful memories, increasing empathic interactions, and shared meaning making (Hass-Cohen & Findlay, 2015).
Talking together about the artworks made in group art therapy assists young people in processing memories and beliefs and supports the integration of thoughts and feelings.
The use of short, theme-based group art therapy interventions is one of the most popular methods of implementing art therapy in school settings. The interventions are cost-effective and combine the benefits of art therapy with the benefits of group therapy, which for adolescents is particularly helpful for encouraging socialisation and the development of self-esteem and morals.
Hass-Cohen, N., & Findlay, J. C. (2015). Art Therapy and the Neuroscience of Relationships, Creativity, and Resiliency: Skills and Practices (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.
Martin, K. E., Wood, L. J., Houghton, S., Carroll, A., & Hattie, J. (2014). 'I Don't have the Best Life': A Qualitative Exploration of Adolescent Loneliness. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behaviour, 2014.