Abstract

Family life is usually characterized by challenges. Besides the normal challenges that family faces, blended families are subject to extra challenges. It explains why the rate of divorces among remarried couples exceeds the divorce rate among first-time marriages. Blended families have the potential of being effective and happy; however, the extra challenges pose the need for extra effort and wisdom in order to ensure that the family remains strong. In order to address challenges that face blended families, current paper proposes to implement a creative family therapy that uses art and play techniques. The paper provides a discussion of the therapy technique, steps used in treating blended families, the effectiveness of the technique and the positive and negative effects associated with the technique. Creative family therapy uses art and play approaches and increases the relative ease with which members of blended families can articulate their thoughts and feelings. There are relatively few studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of play and art therapy in treating issues of blended families, making it problematic to conclusively assert its effectiveness.

Blended Family Creative Therapy Techniques

Introduction

Blended families may pose a challenge for children and parents due to the need to adapt to different styles of parenting. In addition, visitations are likely to increase stress for both children and parents. Stress may also be caused by conflicts that arise between current parents or between one of the current parents and previous parents. In addition, the possibility of sibling rivalry is higher in blended families, since children are more likely to compete with respect to dominance and attention. Gonzales (2009) summarized three challenges that face blended families, which included expecting changes in parenting, resolution of the feelings relating to the preceding marriage and living and financial arrangements. With respect to living and financial arrangements, Gonzales (2009) asserts that couples have to make a decision on whether their resources will be combined.

Research has established that couples who bring their resources together tend to have higher family satisfaction. Remarriage is likely to result in unresolved feelings for children and parents. The underlying inference is that blended families meet numerous challenges that ought to be addressed or treated using effective approaches. To this end, present paper discusses a technique that can be used in the treatment of blended families: creative family therapy using art-based activities. The paper provides an overview of the therapy technique, steps used in treatment, the effectiveness and the positive and negative effects associated with the technique.

Overview of Creative Family Therapy Using Art-Based Activities

The incorporation of play and art techniques in family therapy was pioneered by Eliana Gil. She stressed that art and play techniques play a significant role in engaging children and parents in an enhanced communication, ensuring emotional relatedness, fostering understanding and helping therapists in administering treatment. As a result, art and play techniques are a viable and a crucial component of family therapy. In addition, family therapy, that is based on art and play activities, shifts treatment from the abstract and intellectual work, that adults are accustomed to, towards a world characterized by creativity, metaphor and imagination, which is closer to children. Art and play therapy has also been considered an effective therapy technique in treating families owing to the fact that it circumvents the censors that families are likely to have adeptly interpreted. For instance, art therapy may come in handy for a family that lacks the means of directly expressing their feelings through activities such as paintings. When family members take part in play- and art-based therapy, they usually find it easy to express their thoughts and feelings. Otherwise, using the conventional family talk therapy may cause uncomfortable feelings among family members. The inference is that play- and art-based family therapy plays a significant role in increasing the level of communication between family members. In addition, art and play therapy is different from the conventional talk therapies in the sense that it tends to engage emotions physically and directly, producing creative energy that acts as the healing force, which allows clients to be able to articulate their conflicts and problems.

Steps in Creative Art- and Play-Based Family Therapy

Parents and adults may have a problem in understanding the effectiveness and justification of incorporating art and play techniques during family therapy meetings. Adults and parents are likely to perceive art and play items such as puppets, drawings and paintings as just entertainment sources. In addition, parents and adults are likely to be embarrassed, uncomfortable or feel tensely taking part in art and play activities during family therapy. Therefore, it is essential for the therapist to have a meeting with parents and adult members of the family in order to inform them the significance of incorporating play and art activities in therapy, as well as assist them to accept this therapeutic approach. The steps in creative art and play family therapy have been outlined by Lowenstein & Sprunk (2010).

 

The first step entails informing parents and adult members of the family that art and play activities will be a component of the family therapy. It is imperative to mention about the means of play and art therapy that will be used during sessions like puppets, paintings, drawings or games. In addition, it also crucial for the therapist to gather information regarding how parents will react to the forms of play and art that will be included in the therapy. In case parents are doubtful or indicate some discomfort with play and art forms, the therapist can normalize their attitudes and feelings.

The second step involves explaining the core benefits associated with utilizing art and play techniques during family therapy sessions, which include: (a) children are more comfortable with play-based therapy, since they enjoy using puppets, painting, drawing and playing games; (b) owing to the fact that children tend to communicate using play and art, they are likely to express their feelings with more ease than when they are subjected to the conventional talk therapy; (c) as play and art activities are inherently active, it will be easy to capture and sustain the attention of children in the course of the entire session; and (d) research indicates that play is crucial in helping children with regard to their development of sensorimotor, affective and cognitive skills. When incorporating art and play activities in family therapy, Lowenstein & Sprunk (2010) recommend starting with activities that warrant success; such tasks ought to be easy. In addition, when members of the family are requested to work in pairs or groups, they are likely to feel less conscious about their individual contributions.

Research Effectiveness of Creative Art- and Play-Based Family Therapy

There are relatively few studies regarding the effectiveness of art- and play-based family therapy in the addressing the issues that blended families face. Nevertheless, the few studies have suggested that integrating play and art techniques in family therapy improves the therapy outcomes. Including art- and play-based activities increases concentration, self-esteem and self-confidence, assists individuals in gaining self-awareness, help people communicate and interact with others and decreases feelings associated with exclusion and isolation. Ball (2002) performed a comprehensive long-term study that involved children with severe emotional disturbance, who took part in 50 art therapy sessions. The results of the study indicated that art therapy treatment was an effective intervention for children. The authors suggested that art therapy is an effective intervention for the population in the sense that both the therapist and the children identified the moments of growth and change in the course of the therapy. Hosea (2006) also provides evidence for the effectiveness of family therapy using art and play interventions.

According to Hosea, creative family therapy using art and play techniques is effective in enhancing interactions between mothers and their children. It is evident that the effectiveness of art and play therapies has been affirmed in literature; however, its effectiveness in specific settings, including its effectiveness in blended family settings, is yet to be explored in a conclusive manner. Therefore, it is problematic to make the claim that creative family therapy using art and play techniques is effective in the treatment of blended families.

Positives and Negatives of Creative Family Therapy Using Art- and Play-Based Techniques

There are a number of positive aspects associated with creative family therapy using art and play interventions. First, play and art interventions in family therapy provides various meaningful experiences for families undergoing treatment. Research has established that play and art therapy are effective in reducing defensiveness. In addition, art therapy has the capability of unlocking deeper experiential understanding for families, as well as individuals undergoing treatment. Therefore, art and play therapy can circumvent the entrenched defenses that are typical for family issues. In addition, art and play therapy can provide blended family members with an opportunity to express their emotions and thoughts using visual means; it is contrasted with verbal talk in the sense that it facilitated individual self-expression through art and play. The second benefit of creative family therapy using play and art techniques is that, when it is therapeutically combined with the conventional talk therapy, it provides the therapist with an opportunity to evaluate communication patterns through offering a visual record of the boundaries, subsystems and structures in the family.

The third benefit of including creative play and art in family therapy is that it brings about the required energy for families appearing deadlocked in ineptness and anger. A characteristic of families that seek treatment is their deep entrenchment in impotence and failure. In this regard, it is imperative to note that play and art method is inherently energizing, and that it does not only bring about the required energy, but also allows the family to have a sense of accomplishment as they participate in art-making and play. As a result, art and play techniques in therapy are likely to be proscriptive and liberating. Lastly, a benefit of art and play approaches in family therapy is that it enhances relationship building among family members, which can be attributed to its non-verbal nature.

Despite the above mentioned benefits associated with creative family therapy using art and play techniques, there are a number of weaknesses associated with this approach with respect to treating blended families. The first weakness is that the creative therapy process still relies significantly on the client’s mood, which poses a challenge for therapists to address the moods of family members prior to using creative art and play therapy in treating blended families. Another challenge for therapists relates to choosing the most appropriate form of art and play to be incorporated in the therapy.

Conclusion

The unavoidable disorganizing effects associated with family disruptions such as separation, blended families, step-parents, divorces and custody battles among others have resulted in the need of treatment of many children and adults. Family art therapy has been a useful treatment not only for individual clients but also for families owing to the fact that when people are not in a position to talk to each other, they can express their thoughts using art and play activities. Art therapy can be used to address the challenges facing blended families, since it has been found effective in fostering communication between family members. Using art-based and play techniques in family therapy offers blended families an opportunity to laugh, be creative, work as a group and explore their feelings. It can improve emotional intimacy, which provides members of a blended family with secure base for growth.

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