At Teapot Trust we get excited when we hear about new research looking at art therapy for children and young people with long-term health conditions. Research involves trying to test a theory, answer a question, or evaluate a way of working by gathering information. It helps us learn and work in the best way possible.

In this research, the team were evaluating an online art therapy group for young people with rheumatology conditions at the Great North Children's Hospital. You can find the full research article here. Below is a breakdown of the research for teenagers and families, and below that is a breakdown for primary school aged children.  

Why do this research? 

There is lots of research that shows that living with a rheumatology condition can affect your mental health. Children and young people with rheumatology conditions often experience more stress than children and young people without rheumatology conditions. They are also more likely to experience depression (low mood) and anxiety (high level of worries). 

There are lots of ideas of how to support children and young people with rheumatology conditions with their mental health. One idea that we know works well is art therapy. Art therapy is a type of mental health support where art is the main way of expressing and communicating, alongside talking with an art therapist. Art therapy can be done in lots of different ways, including as part of a group.  

The research team wanted to try out a plan for a 6-week online art therapy group for children and young people with rheumatology conditions, called GAIN. By tying it out they could listen to children and young people and learn about if it worked well, and what they could do to make it better. 

Who did the research? 

There were four people on this research team: Dr Patricia Watt (a Teapot Trust art therapist), Dr Simon Hackett (art therapist and research lead), Sharmila Jandial (children’s rheumatology doctor), and Lucy Craig (children’s rheumatology specialist nurse). Nurses at the Great North Children's Hospital paediatric rheumatology department, art therapists, and young people and families who took part in the groups also played a key part in the research. 

What did they find? 

The researchers found that taking part in the groups had a positive effect on young people's mental health 😊  

People who took part shared that they liked being able to connect with other young people with similar experiences. Parents shared that they noticed their children were calmer and more able to express themselves.  

The research found art therapy groups following the GAIN pattern are a good option for supporting children and young people living with rheumatology conditions. 

What does this mean for me? 

If you are a young person living with a rheumatology condition and you are having a tricky time with your mental health, taking part in an online art therapy group may be helpful. More rheumatology departments might recommend online art therapy groups, and so it may be something you hear about from your rheumatology team.  

It is important to remember that this research isn’t saying that online art therapy groups are the right fit for every young person with a rheumatology condition. You can think about this like rheumatology medications. For medications to be offered they must be safe and work well, but different people find different medications are best for them.  

It is also important to remember that there is often a gap between research being done, and changes being made. It can take a while for changes to what support is offered and recommended. If it is something you are interested in, then why not bring this along to your next rheumatology appointment and ask your team about it.  

GAIN research: A summary for primary school aged children 

We know that children and young people living with rheumatology conditions (like lupus and JIA) can sometimes have a hard time, and can feel stressed and low. There are lots of ways to help if you are feeling like this. Art therapy is one way of helping. It involves making art with different materials (like paints, pens and clay) and talking with an art therapist. This can be done in lots of different ways, including in a group.   

In an art therapy group you come together with an art therapist and people who have experiences like you to make art and talk together. Lots of people like this because they get to do art therapy and meet other people like them.   

A team of researchers designed a plan (called GAIN) for 6 weeks of art therapy for children and young people with rheumatology conditions and similar experiences, and in this research they tried it out. The group met once a week online for 6 weeks and followed the GAIN plan, which set out the topics for each session. These topics included looking after yourself and talking about your health. In between each session children made artwork with their parents and carers. 

The GAIN group worked well! We hope that more children with rheumatology conditions will be able to go to GAIN art therapy groups.  

If you have any questions about this research, or art therapy for children and young people with long term health conditions, please get in touch with me, Ally, [email protected].