About Dyadic Art Therapy

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Dyadic art therapy is a joined up approach to art therapy, involving children and their parents or carers.

The make-up of the dyad varies with different children and different family set-ups. It usually involves the child and an adult with whom the child has a significant and enduring relationship.


Art therapists may decide to offer dyadic sessions for a variety of reasons, such as

  • to observe the relationship between caregiver and child at first hand

  • to facilitate joined up creative and playful activities between caregiver and child

  • to enhance caregiving skills

  • to facilitate reflective discussions between caregiver and child

  • to work directly with the relationship between the child and caregiver

  • to help the child to engage and feel safe during the therapy

Mechanisms of change

Joined up dyadic art therapy sessions offer a number of potentially therapeutic opportunities, such as

Guiding principles

The therapeutic work aims to

  • be flexible, respecting diversity of family history, culture and individual experience

  • create links with the present and past, in a historical, developmental and social context

  • encourage children to expand their ability to recognise their own feelings in the presence of their carers

  • focus on moments of attunement, when warmth and playfulness emerge is at the heart of the work

  • promote relationships characterised by both connectedness and autonomy

  • enhance the carer’s capacity for openness, working with experiences as they occur within the session

  • develop the carer’s capacity for reflective functioning

  • address how the carer’s own internal working models are enacted in the relationship with the child

  • enhance the carer’s sensitivity to the child’s emotional and behavioural signals

  • include discussions of attachment and emotion regulation

Find out more about how these principles were developed.

Dyadic art therapy client groups

Dyadic art therapy is used in a variety of settings across the country. It may be considered when children have emotional and relational difficulties.

Dyadic art therapy is used with fostered and adopted children as well as children who live with their birth families. It can be used with children with diagnoses such as a learning disability, autism or ADHD.

There are already some rich descriptions of dyadic art therapy with infants and toddlers. This manual will focus on children between the ages of 5 and 15.

Find out more:


A thorough assessment and an appropriate level of preparation with the parents or carers is an important element of dyadic art therapy.

Occasionally during this process, the therapist may decide that the presence of the parent or carer in art therapy sessions will not be helpful for the child, and may even be detrimental.

In such cases a different approach should be sought, and the therapist should assess whether further action, such as safeguarding or signposting, is needed.