Blog post by: Mary-Clare Hobbs, Photo credit: Colin Hattersley

The Teapot Trust art therapy service for children and young people with rheumatological conditions launched at Addenbrookes Hospital in January has already resulted in over 650 hours of vital therapeutic support. Provided by Teapot Trust with funding from charitable trusts including The Evelyn Trust and The Worshipful Company of Grocers, the unique service offers support for children who have been diagnosed with chronic conditions, such as juvenile arthritis, lupus and juvenile dermatomyositis.

It can be a confusing time, with mixed emotions, for a family to receive such a diagnosis and it often comes after several appointments or an admission to hospital. While it can be a relief to know what is wrong, it is often the beginning of many years of treatment which often involves regular hospital admissions and appointments, causing children to miss school in order to attend. Children live with symptoms which can include pain, swelling of joints and difficulty walking or playing.

Both the diagnosis and treatment can have an emotional impact on the young person and their family. Children often express feeling different to their friends and feeling anxious about the future which can lead to a low mood. Art therapy aims to build resilience in children by encouraging them to express emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms in a safe and creative space.

Children often struggle to talk about how they feel. Art making provides a way to gently explore the challenges that have brought them to therapy and find ways to think about this, which does not feel so overwhelming.

Art therapy is offered in a variety of ways. Children can be referred by their treatment teams for one-to-one sessions focusing on a particular challenge. The therapist also visits children on the ward, while they are admitted for treatment, to offer bedside sessions to children and parents. Children look forward to their sessions, which offer a welcome distraction from their medical procedures and helps them to interact with ward staff by showing off their artwork.

Alongside this the ‘Art Table’ runs on Friday mornings in the children’s outpatient department. Children waiting to see a consultant are invited to join the table and make art as they wait. Teapot Trust hopes that this will make hospital visits a more positive experience and will help to reduce the anxiety of waiting for an appointment.

Dr Sally Benson, consultant clinical psychologist and head of paediatric psychological services at Addenbrooke’s Hospital said: “Working together with Teapot Trust integrating art therapy into the Paediatric Psychological Medicine Service here at Addenbrooke’s has been a fantastic opportunity. Art therapy has something to offer children and young people of all ages. The feedback from children and staff has been really positive. Clare’s work across children’s services has helped everyone recognise the importance of offering children different ways of expressing themselves and the positive impact this has on their experience of coping with illness.”