What is it about?

We are researching whether making art together in an art therapy group might help improve the bonding between parents and their young children and our pilot has found very promising results that there is a benefit. The experiences we have with our caregivers in the first years of life are crucial for our wellbeing for the rest of our lives. It makes a difference to have a caregiver who is emotionally available and who is responsive. Sometimes if parents are struggling things can make this early bonding hard, whether this is due to post-natal depression, mental health problems, lack of support, or external stresses such as domestic violence or bereavement. We think that when infants and their parents make art together it encourages lots of positive behaviours between them that can help to improve the way they relate to each other – their attachment. Art encourages lots of joint looking and shared sensory experiences which can help them to communicate better and, importantly, to have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. Our research looked at an Art Therapy approach where a group of parents and infants did art and messy play together for 12 weeks with the support of a qualified art psychotherapist. Some people might think that babies are not able to make art but in the groups we studied even very young babies were enjoying the experience of the messy materials and seeing that they could make marks, and they were able to share this with their caregivers. We showed that there were improvements in the well-being of parents and in the way they viewed their relationships following the art therapy group and the change in well-being was statistically significant. We also measured the length of time each parent-infant pair spent engaged in behaviour that would be seen as positive for attachments and saw that this increased from the first to last session. This is really promising pilot evidence that Art Therapy might be a useful tool to help with struggling parents and their very young children.

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Why is it important?

This research shows potential benefits of Art Therapy for young children (0-3) and their parents or carers, in particular where there are worries about their attachments. There is currently increased public awareness of the importance of the early years to babies development but a lack of service provision for parents who come forward or are identified as struggling. Art therapy and art generally may offer an important tool to support early relationships, which is accessible and which families enjoy taking part in.


I hope that this research might result in art therapy being offered more widely to families. It is all very well raising awareness around mental health but this has to come alongside a wide variety of services to help. I hope our research will impact upon policy and provision and will encourage local authorities and health services to consider offering Art Therapy.

Vicky Armstrong
University of Dundee

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A dyadic art psychotherapy group for parents and infants – piloting quantitative methodologies for evaluation, International Journal of Art Therapy, March 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/17454832.2019.1590432.
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