A new pilot study suggests that group art therapy may significantly help improve the mental health of refugee children. The research is published in the journal Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies.
The findings show that approximately one week after participating in the art program, refugee children experienced notable improvements in trauma, depression, and trait-anxiety symptoms (general tendency to be anxious).
Previous research has consistently shown that refugee children are at high risk of a broad range of psychological problems including depression, behavioral problems, aggression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For the study, researchers tested whether group art therapy could reduce psychological symptoms in 64 Syrian refugee children (ages seven to 12) who were living in Istanbul. Standard questionnaires and scales were used to assess the children’s traumatic experiences and to measure levels of depression, PTSD, and anxiety — both before and one week after — the five-day art therapy program.
The therapy used the Skills for Psychological Recovery program to help children improve their problem solving skills, express and manage their feelings, and increase their social engagement and self-esteem through, art, dancing, and music.
At the onset of the study, over half of the children (35) were considered at high risk of developing PTSD, around one-fourth (14) were already showing symptoms of PTSD, about one-fifth (10) showed severe levels of depression and state (current) anxiety symptoms, and almost one-third (13) had severe levels of trait anxiety symptoms.
Trait anxiety describes a person’s overall tendency to become anxious, while state anxiety refers to the “in-the-moment” anxiety one feels in response to an immediate threat. People with high levels of trait anxiety typically have more intense levels of state anxiety.
One week after the program, children reported significant improvements in trauma, depression, and trait-anxiety symptoms. No significant improvement was noted in state anxiety symptoms.
With nearly 1.5 million refugee children from Syria currently living in Turkey, effective programs to help improve the mental health of refugees are desperately needed. The new study draws attention to the psychological impact of this crisis and presents a potentially effective therapy.
The researchers caution that because of the limited number of participants and the lack of a control group, however, larger studies are needed before solid conclusions can be made about this particular therapy’s effect on improving the mental health of refugee children.
According to other recent studies, however, art therapy has shown significant promise in making a positive impact on the mental health of patients with PTSD. In fact, in a recent study conducted by a researcher at Concordia University, art therapy was found to help alleviate the psychological trauma experienced by soldiers returning from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Source: Taylor & Francis