Thursday, April 6, 2017

Drawn Together: Art Therapy Workshops for Grieving Families

Drawn Together: Art Therapy Workshops for Grieving Families
Malinda Ann Hill, M.A.


Group art therapy has been incorporated into many bereavement programs as an effective means of intervention. Most programs offer multi-session groups where children and adults meet separately. However, this is not a feasible or appropriate option for all grieving families.

Drawn Together, an art therapy workshop program, was designed for families who want to honor their loved ones and share memories but cannot attend multi-session support groups. The program has been used successfully in a variety of settings.


The creative process draws the family together and acts as a powerful force to help build a sense of family unity, as well as giving each individual an opportunity to express their unique perspective.

Creating a tribute helps the family to express their memories, find comfort in being with each other and create a lasting legacy for everyone to cherish.


· Promote healing through creative expression
· Foster a sense of connection with others

· Present information about the grief process and creative approaches to cope with grief
· Provide an opportunity for the family to work together on a commemorative art project
· Invite family members to share their memories with each other through their artwork
· Encourage families to communicate with and receive support from other grieving families


· Educational presentations on specific topics
· Family art activities that foster remembering
· Group discussion that reduces isolation


· Offer workshop once a month on a Saturday afternoon.
· Aim for 10 - 30 participants per workshop.
· Send invitation to families, asking them to register by phone.
· Conduct consultation by phone to assess family’s suitability.
· Mail confirmation letter with instructions to bring mementos.


Each informal session is divided into 5 segments whose length can be adjusted depending on the size of the group and the specific activity.

1. Introduction (10 minutes)
- Present workshop agenda
- Invite participants to introduce themselves

2. Education (20 minutes)
- Explain the grieving process
- Describe creative ways to cope with grief

3. Family Art Project (60 minutes)
- Select one project, provide materials and show examples
- Instruct family members to work together on the project
- Examples: Día de los Muertos Altars, Memorial Books, Healing Quilts, and Trees of Remembrance

- Art Project: Memory Boxes
- Goal: Compile mementos and reminisce
- Procedure: Present options for decorating boxes and encourage families to use their mementos and choose materials that remind them of their loved ones.

- Art Project: Mandalas for Healing
- Goal: Express thoughts and feelings related to grief
- Procedure: Describe the history of mandala art for self-expression. Instruct participants to draw pictures or select symbols and phrases from magazines that represent their thoughts and feelings.

4. Discussion (25 minutes)
- Invite family members to share their completed project, feelings and memories.
- Remind participants of the ground rules:
· Share as much or as little as they choose
· Information shared is confidential
· Offer advice only when requested

5. Closing (5 minutes)
- Read a poem of remembrance
- Offer families an opportunity to interact over refreshments
- Provide age-appropriate grief resources for families to keep


The program was evaluated on a regular basis by reviewing participants’ evaluation forms containing age-specific questions that cover organization, structure and materials and include open-ended questions related to the participants’ experiences.

Evaluation forms were mailed to families one week after the workshop with a stamped addressed envelope for return. By completing the evaluation at home, participants give better feedback than if they are rushed at the end of the workshop, and the exercise offers an opportunity for closure.


Drawn Together enhanced and extended the scope of care for bereaved families.

All participants strongly agreed that the workshop was beneficial and meaningful.


Since the format is non-threatening, flexible, and family-oriented, it is applicable for any bereaved family group.

The program may be used as an alternative or an addition to support group offerings and can be offered either once or several times throughout the year.

The format also appeals to segments of the grieving population who traditionally do not use grief support services.

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