Advice and examples

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Tips from practicing dyadic art therapists

Careful preparation and assessment is essential

Therapists stress the need for a thorough assessment and thorough preparation.

During the assessment, think about the relationship between the parent and the child. Consider whether that relationship would benefit from having a space where the parent is encouraged to think about the child’s emotional world.

Also, if you can, spend some time with the parent or carer finding out about the child’s early years and developmental history. If possible, before you start the joint sessions, prepare the parent or carer for those sessions. You can do this by discussing the various roles and thinking through what might happen.

Listen to an example of one kind of preparation session.

Get to know the parent or carer and their strengths and limitations

Think about parents and carers’ own history and their capacity to think because that might change the way that you structure the dyadic work. Continue to give carers the support they need throughout the work.

Be aware of the counter-transference

It may be helpful to reflect on what is activated in you about the relationship between the dyad as a way of taking a check on it.

Understand the unique contribution of the art materials

Let the art materials do some of the work. Art may be able to communicate something about the child’s experience more effectively than words.

Example five illustrates this.

Have confidence in your own abilities and don’t be frightened to give it a go

Be prepared to be a bit flexible, let your own practice evolve. Remember there isn’t a magic wand and it can be helpful to model that for the parents and carers.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and have confidence in your own skills. Your own skills can quickly develop by reading about the subject and getting appropriate support.

What to avoid

A list of things to avoid:

  • Inappropriate settings. Find a protected space where you’re not going to be interrupted.

  • Rushing into dyadic sessions without adequate preparation.

  • Starting or continuing with dyadic work if the parent isn’t able to think about the child and is too preoccupied with their own difficulties.

  • Taking sides or becoming overly identified with one half of the dyad.

  • Starting sessions with the parent or carer giving a rundown of the past week’s negative events.


A series of vignettes, illustrating how dyadic art therapy works in different scenarios: