Child abuse and neglect in Australia 

Recent research conducted by the University of South Australia’s Centre for Child Protection shows the staggeringly high number of children being reported to child protection authorities in Australia, and of those being reported 90 per cent have multiple reports being made about “incredibly concerning” abuse and neglect.

Professor Arney said authorities needed to respond to the child protection epidemic as a health crisis.

“That includes working out how we can reallocate resources to meet the extent of the need and how we can identify the earliest opportunities for intervening in family life,” she said.

“At the moment we are waiting until the problem gets so bad that the only recourse we have is the statutory child protection system.”

Read this article by ABC News for more details of the findings.

So why do I mention this?

This is of course incredibly relevant to therapy, insomuch as preventing child abuse and neglect can help to prevent a lot of potential future distress that people might need to treat with therapy. While it can be unpopular to make comment on policy and politics when we work in the helping professions, there is also the view that the structures of society itself do contribute greatly to the wellbeing of individuals, and as such are highly relevant to the work of therapist and other support and health workers.


I personally wonder whether the incredibly low Newstart Allowance in Australia (social security payment for those out of work) is contributing to unnecessary household hardship and stress, and contributing to entrenched disadvantage. See here for some discussion about Newstart.

Research in the UK has revealed that here is a strong association between family poverty and a child’s chance of suffering child abuse or neglect. Adverse events in childhood, including abuse and neglect, are associated with a negative effect on adult economic circumstances. See here for this research into the link between poverty and child abuse.

What do you think? What things do you think might help reduce the rate of abuse and neglect for children in this country?

If this article raises strong feelings of distress for you personally and you are based in Australia don’t forget that there are many help lines available. Thousands of people access these daily and there is absolutely no shame in doing so if you need to talk with someone. Ini addition, the Blue Knot Foundation has a Helpline 1300 657 380 as well as online resources and workshops specifically for adult survivors of child abuse and neglect.


Does your inner child need some play time?

What do you do that is playful, open ended and full of joy?

In my experience, connecting with the inner child needs a few foundation- conditions to be in place…. For me these are:

  • Feeling safe – no one is criticising or judging me, I can’t ‘fail’, I’m not scared of making a mess or getting something wrong
  • It’s ok to be me – there is room for diverse outcomes, I know my unique expression is welcome, I’m not having to work to a detailed map, I’m not forcing my outputs to match someone else’s
  • Other people are playing too – it’s not a competitive environment, people are relaxed and seeing what emerges, I can concentrate on me because everyone is engrossed and taking care of themselves
  • There is a sense of wonder and awe – maybe the space feels like a place out of time, or the materials are delighting me, or the depth of connection with others is making me feel like anything is possible.
  • My senses and imagination is engaged – I feel lit up and enthusiasm is driving what I do

Connecting with that inner sense of joyful exploration might feel different for each of us.

No matter how we do it, it is wonderful to put down the weighty responsibilities of adulthood and deep dive into playfulness from time to time. Let’s schedule it in!

If you are in Sydney and would like some time to play, perhaps with a young person in your life, check out my ‘yarn dolls’ workshop. This Saturday Mixed Media Mini Masterclass is in Glebe on Saturday September the 23rd at 1-4pm. Places are strictly limited so please reserve your spot while there are still some available. Book now.

An afternoon of play – no homework, no prep, nothing you need to bring. Just come along and enjoy.


It matters! Arts and culture for kids

The arts and culture are not an add-on, or a nice-to-have, but are part of the fabric of our society, and that young people have a right to experience the best, and to be given the opportunity to make their own contribution to the continual reshaping of our civilization. We must celebrate our successes, build best practice, and learn from each other; in challenging times, it is up to us to be the champions of young people’s hopes, talent and ideas.”

Let your kids make art! Let them study arts subjects at school! Support a school system that includes the arts! It will help them learn, stay healthy and be active members of civic society.

And here is some evidence to support that claim…

1. Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%.
2. Learning through arts and culture can improve attainment in Maths and English.
3. Learning through arts and culture develops skills and behaviour that lead children to do better in school.
4. Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree.
5. Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment.
6. Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer.
7. Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are 20% more likely to vote as young adults.
8. Young offenders who take part in arts activities are 18% less likely to re-offend.
9. Children who take part in arts activities in the home during their early years are ahead in reading and Maths at age nine.
10. People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.”

Source (of the 10 points and the quote above): ‘Imagine Nation, the Value of Cultural Learning’. Cultural Learning Alliance. 2017. Download full report here:

Read the Key Research Findings in full at:

First year of business – 10 ways being a first time business owner is like being a first time parent*

Its my one year bizversary!! One year this month since I said goodbye to my full-time day job and made the leap into self-employment. Oh boy has it been a wild ride! To celebrate I have a bunch of coaching and art therapy offers at cwaaaaazy sale prices, AND I have a blog post a DAY for the next week, about my experiences of the first year of business. So if you are running your own biz, as a side hustle or full time thang, or thinking of making the leap, you might like to check them out.

1. Some days you can’t believe your audacity and courage for taking on this hurculean task and entering into this brand new landscape – everything is different now you have your (biz) baby. It feels like there are lots of big decisions to make every step of the way – that you’ve never had to make before.

2. You are a little obsessed and it *may* be all you want to talk about for the first 12 months. ALL the bits fascinate you. Even the bits you don’t like. You can spend hours talking about the poo and comparing the pooey bits and gorgeous parts where you get a smile and happy reinforcement.

3. You feel aggrieved that the world should expect you to do anything in addition to this. Dishes? Dinner? Remembering people’s names? Just leave me the hell alone to do this mega absorbing and important thing.

4. You compare yourself to growth milestones and hope your business/baby is on track.

5. It wakes you up at night and a chunk of your mind is usually occupied with it even when you’re out doing something unrelated.

6. Growth happens, and you can barely believe that things have changed so fast, even though at the time it was going unbearably slow.

7. You realise you have to accept your imperfections and get on with what’s needed from you despite your many mistakes and bad moods and frustrations and unknowns.

8. The images on Facebook looked strangely alluring but you discover there is a lot more sh*t and crying than you had anticipated.

9. You suddenly notice people in your situation everywhere. You want to connect with them, hungrily seek their company because they are in the same reality you are. You suddenly realise all the people who have been here before and marvel at how well they did. You have newfound empathy for all the people who’ve done this before you. You realise you had no idea what was involved.

10. There is absolute joy and wonder in seeing something brand new enter the world, and seeing how it enriches your life, challenges you and expands you as a human being.

*I imagine! I’m not a parent so really I’m guessing basing this on reading and conversations I’ve had with new parents over the years.

An Art Therapy Career in Trauma Informed Care

I took my first intro to Art Therapy Class and it was like such a great fit and kind of like a calling.

This week  (March 13-19) is Creative Arts Therapies Week. To celebrate here is an interview with Board Certified US based art therapist Gretchen Miller about her career to date, specialising particularly in the use of art therapy in trauma informed care for children and young people. You can also find out more about art therapy and creative arts therapies at the Art Therapy Alliance-


Why did you first decide to become an art therapist?

As a child I was always involved in the arts. I did art classes at school, musically I played the violin, I did a lot of drama and plays. I was always involved in some kind of creative activity but I really enjoyed making visual art. In high school I started to become a lot more interested in psychopathology and mental illness – it really intrigued me. I knew I wanted to do something to help people.

Initially I thought I’d go the psychology route – I started off as an undergraduate psychology major and that was very research focused and I’m very bad at math’s and the statistics class was like ‘ugh, too much’ and it wasn’t as direct service as I wanted… I was fortunate enough that the college I was attending had an undergraduate Art therapy program so I switched my major. My mum had always been encouraging of me to try art therapy. I was a little intimidated by the art aspect, the studio work, but I went to some information sessions and it seemed like it was worth trying it out. Then I took my first intro to Art Therapy Class and it was like such a great fit and kind of like a calling. It really resonated with me. Big time. So, that’s what led me. And having that undergraduate before I did the training to become an art therapist really helped me to know that that was what I wanted to do.

And did you go straight from the undergraduate to the Masters Program?

No I did not, I searched a lot of programs when I was a senior in college and I was kind of all over the map in terms of where I would like to go. I took a year off and tried to really thoughtfully figure out where to study. It worked out that the first job that I got out of college – I couldn’t do art therapy with just my undergraduate degree in art therapy – but I wanted to use my art making in some way to be art as therapy. I ended up working in a residential treatment¹ organisation with youth, all boys, and the agency saw that I had a background in art therapy and was very interested in developing that more.

So I stayed local and studied here in Ohio because I could develop the program that I was already working on, and they were very helpful and supportive in my process as a new professional entering the field. I ended up staying in that particular organization for over 8 years – 1995 to around 2002. It was a good chunk of time of growing and learning.

It began as art as therapy and the program became more clinical, to meet treatment goals and objectives, as I developed in school and became more confident.

So 8 1/2 years in that role, what came next?

I did some residential treatment work with adolescent girls, that was also a great experience. From there I started to really become interested in learning more about trauma, because I felt that was lacking in the education and training I received at graduate school. I started to reflect on how trauma and loss had a really big impact on the lives of a lot of the teens I had worked with. I just wanted to understand that a bit more. I started working with an agency that was dedicated to domestic violence and bereavement with adolescents, and began to undertake training at the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC). At the time of my starting my training with TLC, I was working as an art therapist with two agencies: one that was dedicated to domestic violence and the other was a program for grieving children and adolescents. I stayed with that particular domestic violence agency for 10 years and still facilitate art therapy bereavement groups for teens when I am able to. A lot of the work I do now is from that trauma focused lens I learned from TLC.

And is that still a big part of your work now – working with teenagers and groups around trauma and loss?

A big part of my work now is working with teens. Group work is a huge piece of what I do. I love groups. It wasn’t something I started out loving, like back in the beginning. I feel like while I do some individual, its predominantly group based. I also do some group work with adults around homelessness or are survivors of human trafficking, or vulnerable and at risk youth. But primarily have always worked with youth in some kind of capacity.

Which is interesting because some people might be a bit scared of working with adolescents.

Yes my undergraduate self and what I thought I would end up doing – I kind of had a vision of working in hospitals or psychiatric.. or maybe in hospices on death and dying, I thought maybe I would end up doing something on that. It’s interesting that I ended up at that organization for my first job, which was really just to get experience, I never thought I would end up there as long as I was or that I would end up enjoying it as much as I did. You just never know…



I really enjoy being able to offer art making and the creative process to help people. Turning them on to the possibilities that their art can help them feel better.

So you’ve worked at a lot of different agencies, and you still do it, you speak passionately about it, so you must love it. What do you love most about your work?

I really enjoy being able to offer art making and the creative process to help people. Turning them on to the possibilities that their art can help them feel better. Back in early part of my career there was a strong focus on what was wrong with people and diagnosis, but my way of working has definitely shifted to be more strength based and using those strengths to help manage and cope with different emotions, feelings, experiences and trauma reactions. It’s a privilege to be able to help people learn more about that so they can keep on doing that as well…

Groups are definitely challenging with the different people and dynamics but it can be so empowering because they can see they are not alone and not the only one going through what they are going through – they support each other.

In working with people transitioning out of homelessness, just the gratitude and appreciation, and the growth is really inspiring. Taking the art and using it to develop themselves really more is really nice. When people really connect and you see how art therapy can be a safe place for people to really voice their feelings and experiences and thoughts.

You’re working with individuals and groups who’ve experienced trauma, I’m wondering what insights you’ve gained in your work and what kind of ideas you have for change in the bigger structures of society to support people in these situations.

I think about trauma informed care and how a lot of systems or organisations could definitely benefit from seeing services and navigating through the system in a much more trauma friendly way rather than people having to fit into what they already offer. Some adults who are working with multiple providers of community-based services, navigating their way around this system can be hard. Being more flexible and more tailored to the individual would be really beneficial.

I think self care is definitely such an important part of the work we do.

And what about the role of art therapy for the therapist, or of art and self care?

I’m not sure of you know the work of Laura van Dernoot Lipsky? She wrote the book ‘Trauma Stewardship’ – it’s all about self care for professionals who work in trauma. It’s a really good resource, and tips for what to look out for, and her experiences of being burnt out. I think self care is definitely such an important part of the work we do. Hearing everybody’s stories and not just hearing them but seeing them, and balancing that out. That’s why I have my own art making and balancing out what I do as an art therapist with other things I really enjoy doing as well.

Having rituals and things that you do can be helpful – embracing music or smells or visually, sound, nature – whatever works for you in creating that relaxing type space is really helpful. One of the things I’ve suggested in the past is having a comfort care box or bag that you can keep in your car or office space, or wherever you work as an art therapist, and be able to access that when you need it. Chill out and take a moment to decompress. Like I would have gel pens, collage items, glue stick, maybe something sweet like a little bit of chocolate, smells are really important like lavender or a peppermint oil roller that is super relaxing. Lotions, things that are really nurturing and make you feel good in that moment.

And does that inform how you structure your working week or mix of tasks? In terms of number of groups all in a row, or the mix of groups and teaching?

Yes when I started out I did a lot of full time roles, but the trauma work I’ve done part time and contract and I almost feel that doing it that way is a nice fit for me, because it does allow me to do other things. The heaviness and stress that this work can cause, it’s a nice kind of balance to not be doing that 40 hours a week, for your own mental health care. To mix it up with other things.

You mentioned Laura’s work on trauma, are there are other people who have really shaped your approach to the work over the years? I guess probably too many to even remember – but do any stand out? 

I’m really a big fan of Bruce Perry and his work with children and youth and that sensory-based approach. What I really admire about Dr Perry’s work is the simplicity, even though it’s based on complex research, he talks about simple concepts like relational enrichment and working in parallel. Working alongside and being present and being relational, and how we don’t always have that in our lives, especially with youth, that can make such a great difference. ‘The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog’ is a great book if people are interested in learning more about his work or trauma in general.

And so looking back over your career is there any advice or reflections you would share with any art therapists just starting out in terms of what has helped you in professional development?

I think building a support network, especially locally with people you can connect to, who are also maybe in the same physical area that you’re working in. In terms of doing contract work, and art therapy is still small and word of mouth with agencies, and people who are looking for art therapy, so it’s great to share information and support each other.

Art therapy can be really isolating because you are often the only art therapist in an agency or on a contract. You don’t always have people around who ‘get’ what you’re doing. Where I live near Cleveland there are a lot of art therapists, so there are a lot of opportunities to go to workshops and events, but not everybody has those opportunities to connect in that way. So connecting online is a great way to do that as well.

And going forward what’s on the cards for you? What’s next?

Well working with adolescents is really humbling, they really keep you on your toes – it’s always changing. You have to have that energy and be on you’re a game all the time. So I hope being able to keep that balance and not become disenchanted by the work. I hope to continue to take care of myself and the balance that provides. I can’t imagine not doing art therapy. But who knows what form it might take down the line. I think that the work I do with graduate students as an Adjunct is always inspiring because it’s the future of art therapy and their energy and ideas are always inspiring as well. I always enjoy doing that in the mix.

I would also really like to continue doing online collaboration around art making – it really energises and inspires me, so I’d like that in the future too.

I think art therapy is core to what I do. It has been great to be able to do art therapy all this time with all the different populations I have got to work with, and I hope that continues.

And lucky last question: when might you come to Australia? 

Oh yeah wow, I’d like to come – warmer weather!

I see a lot of energy and activity in Australia in art therapy, it seems like the community is really strong. I’m always really impressed with what I see, the sense of community and what I see going on. few years ago I co-organized a project called ‘Spaces and Places’ inviting art therapists from around the world to share pictures of the spaces that people work in and we got some great submissions from Australia. It’s very inspiring to see where people work.


¹ Children who were wards of the county through abandonment or childhood neglect, or from Foster Care or would go into the Foster care system after their stay at the agencies. They lived in the agency that I worked at.

GretchenPhotoAbout the interviewee: Gretchen M. Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP is a Cleveland based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, TLC Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner, and Adjunct Faculty for Ursuline College’s Counseling and Art Therapy Program. Her clinical work includes working with at-risk children, adolescents, and adults. Gretchen enjoys finding inspiration, creating positive energy, and discovering transformation by working in mixed media, collage, altered art, art journaling, as well as organizing art exchanges and creative collaborations. Her online art making community, 6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists spreading creative goodness. She also serves as Community Organizer for the Art Therapy Alliance, a network dedicated to promoting art therapy, the work of art therapists, and build community through social media. You can learn more about Gretchen’s art, projects, and creative interests on her blog Creativity in Motion.

JadephotoAbout the interviewer: Jade Herriman, BSc, MSocSci, DipTAT is a Sydney-based transpersonal art therapist, Barbara Sher coach and facilitator. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, plan for their professional development, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She is pleased to be presenting a full program of art therapy, creativity and coaching workshops in 2016 including a series of Women’s Wellbeing groups and teaching art for self care at this year’s Art is You Mixed Media Road show in Sydney. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients.

Painting takes the pain away

Art therapy has an important role to play in hospitals for children and adults. In this article I speak with a friend Penny whose daughter was receiving medical treatment over many months, about their experience of play therapy in an Australian hospital.  

“Often, children are unable to verbally express what they are feeling; thus, in play therapy toys serve as children’s words and play as their language.”
– Garry Landreth

Thanks so much for talking with me about this. Can you explain a little bit about what your daughter was diagnosed with and what her medical treatment is?

After seeing 4 different doctors, she received an official diagnosis in January this year – we were told she had Scleroderma and was going to go to hospital in the next 48 hours, for three days of treatment. Scleroderma is a rare, chronic autoimmune disease. Chronic – meaning it will occur for a long time or continuously. Autoimmune – meaning our daughter’s immune system is attacking itself. Her body is attacking itself by producing too much collagen. Collagen is a vital protein in the human body. It is the main component of connective tissue and the substance that holds the whole body together. Too little and your body would fall apart. Too much and it will turn you into a statue. Hence, scleroderma is a Greek word meaning “hard skin”. In our daughter’s case her body is producing too much collagen and it is depositing itself in a linear fashion along her upper limbs. She has the localised type, meaning it will not affect her organs, however if left untreated it would result in deformed limbs and severe mobility issues. This is because as the skin hardens it loses the ability to grow and also move. When it crosses a joint line it impacts the movement of that joint as it affects the skin, connective tissue, muscles and bones underneath. With a child it is a concern as they still have a lot of growing to do.

As there is no cure, the main type of treatment is to attempt to calm down the immune system. This is done using pulse steroid therapy for an initial 6 months and then longer term immunosuppressant (methotrexate). Methotrexate takes at least 3 months to start working which is why the treatment is kick started with high dose steroids. High dose steroids, together with methotrexate mean that her immune system is suppressed and she is more susceptible to illnesses.

She’s stopped her infusions now but she has to do bloods and clinic every two months. She gets joint pains from the cold, similar to people with arthritis. When people hear rheumatology, they often think of old people. In fact there are thousands of kids in Australia with juvenile arthritis and other juvenile rheumatic conditions, but it’s just not well known.  Juvenile scleroderma is so rare, we only know of 4 other children in Australia with this condition.

When in her treatment did your daughter first try play therapy*?  

When she went in for this first treatment at the Royal Children’s Hospital (Melbourne), they kept the cannula in for the full 3 days. Inserting the cannula was pretty traumatic, so after those 3 days she was pretty terrified of hospitals in general. After that first visit she’d have to go for half a day for treatment or a full day of treatment and clinic. The nurses and rheumatology team arranged the play therapy before our second visit.

You know that feeling when you have to take a dog to the vet they get terrified, they know what’s about to come? That’s what it was like returning for hospital after her first experience of treatment. They said that because our daughter is going to be coming in and out of hospital we need to make sure she has a better experience and feels it’s ok.

How did you hear about the art therapy service at the hospital?

They had booked us in an hour early so that our daughter could talk to the play therapist – they had a range of things like beads, painting, so we were sitting there painting. The play therapist gave her a calico doll, and asked her to paint an expression on the face on the doll, and my daughter was able to talk about how she was nervous about the visit. The therapist was probably with us for about an hour and then had to go to the next patient.

play therapy hospital

What were your first impressions?

The great thing was she could keep painting right through her treatment – little tables and chairs were set up in the middle and they could do puzzles and paintings or draw her own butterfly or fairy wings while her IV was in.

Our daughter would take back that doll every time she went to hospital, because she associated it with her treatment.

The dolly even got to have an IV taped on to her and pretend to have treatment.

What I also appreciate is that our daughter leads the activity. That’s really important because no matter how great the medical staff are (and they have been great), the experience of hospital is really hard for kids. They have lots of new people coming up to them, they have to take their clothes off, they have to do tests and they don’t really get a say in what comes next. With the play therapy she gets to have a say in what she does, and what she feels like doing.

Actually the hospital itself is a playful environment; they have a Meerkat enclosure, a big fish tank and a large sculpture in the foyer and the staff are always really cheerful.

What benefits do you think she got from it?

Without the art therapy I dread to think what our days in hospital would have been like – it would have had a very different psychological impact on her and us.

It makes the whole procedure better – it improves the whole experience of the treatment – there’s something else to focus on.



Did you know much about play therapy/ art therapy before this experience?

Not really. I’d heard of it but to be honest, before this I thought it was a wishy washy thing, I didn’t quite understand the experience of it. But it’s made a huge difference to her whole experience of enduring medical procedures, and of hospital.

Because I didn’t understand the benefits of this program I can imagine there would be challenges with funding this in public hospital. It must be hard to describe the benefit to people who haven’t experienced it or seen it in action, but I wish there could be more done so that every patient in the hospital could experience this.


Has the art therapy experience changed how your daughter relates to art making at home?

She’s always been quite artistic, especially in kindergarten, but at school there was less focus on that. She is home more at the moment because of the side effects of the medication; she’s definitely doing more arts and crafts at home, it gives her something to do when she’s off sick.

She also gets Occupational Therapy – they give her exercises to do. They’ve told us ‘you can never do enough play doh’ – it’s good for fine motor skills. She has to work with her hands, to keep her joints moving.

These days she goes between wanting to be a doctor and wanting to be an artist when she grows up.

*For more information about Play Therapy see here and here

For more information on juvenile scleroderma see this page from the Scleroderma Foundation