Art Therapy and Hope

Art Therapy and Hope

‘It is critical for those who are supporting bereaved children to understand that children have abilities to help them to manage and understand change in their lives. They can also be supported to develop attitudes that promote resilience – including hope.’

Standards for Supporting Bereaved Children and Young People, ICBN

An art therapy group has begun in HOPE – Suicide Prevention Drop In Centre Tallaght, for children who have been bereaved through suicide. While the centre has provided free and vital counselling to adults in the community for the past four years, this is the first support it has been able to offer to children.

Therapy for all ages

There has been a spate of maternal suicides in Dublin recently. The tragedy of these young women leaving young children behind is a symptom of a system which lets down those most at risk of mental health issues. Some of those who are most vulnerable are the women who are raising children with little support, especially in the difficult postpartum time. This can lead to mental health issues that go unaddressed and develop over time. We say ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and this couldn’t be more apparent in today’s disconnected society. When help is lacking, sometimes a single individual in the community can make a huge impact. The story of HOPE – Suicide Prevention Drop In Centre Tallaght is one that starts with that individual.

Mary McLoughlin founded the centre to provide support to people in her community who were suffering suicide bereavement or having suicidal thoughts. She had endured her own personal experiences with suicide and knew first-hand how essential it can be to have someone who is there just to listen in times of crisis. She now has a team of volunteers and a new home for HOPE in Tallaght village, you can check out their Facebook page here…

When the recent maternal suicides occurred, Mary wanted to do something for the children left behind. It was at this time our paths crossed and we decided to bring art therapy to the centre. The centre has a strong backing in the community and this was clear at the recent launch of their new premises. Family and friends gathered to celebrate with food, face painting and fun on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I set up an arts and crafts picnic area with the children using simple paper plates. They created everything from fish to hot air balloons, masks, treasure chests, pizzas and cupcakes. Whatever came to mind! After decades of art-making with children, it still amazes me what a small person’s big imagination can do with a few basic materials

Our therapy group began two weeks later and it remains the only therapeutic intervention most of the children attending have had access to since they lost a family member through suicide. The group provides an expressive outlet for experiences no child should have to endure, and a safe space to process what comes up for them in the work. The group members, in their shared experience offer a support to one another that no one else can really provide. Most importantly, these children are given the time and activities which allow them to enjoy being children and to have some serious fun together.

Due to a tight budget, the group is currently set to finish when the summer holidays come to an end. Let’s hope we can find a way to keep it going and provide a consistent support to these children as they continue to process their grief.


Author | Anna Mulvihill. August 2018

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