SOAR with art

News / Mental Health Care
By Christine Maloney

Art workshops in a specialized school program are helping KHSC health care providers better understand how to support kids with anxiety

The Students Overcoming Anxiety and Rebuilding (SOAR) program is designed to help students in grades five through eight build their emotional awareness. For the past five years, through programming such as art workshops, it has also helped Dr. Jennifer Davidson, a psychologist in Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s (KHSC) Child & Youth Mental Health (CYMH) program, better understand how to help kids cope with their anxieties.

Davidson, who provides group therapy in the SOAR program at Winston Churchill Public School two days a week, and Dr. Sarosh Khalid-Khan, a psychiatrist in the CYMH program at KHSC who provides consultation support, notice the positive affects making art has on the students. “Through art, kids get to know themselves better, and learn to communicate their thoughts and feelings, which then helps me recognize how I can best support them,” says Davidson.

The SOAR program’s teacher Lisa Fenwick and artist in residence Peggy Fussell worked with the students from more than one school board to organize an art exhibition on May 30 for parents and other students. The exhibition was held at the end of an eight-week series of art workshops that focused on encouraging students to explore who they are and how they feel through art. This year, the series of art workshops was generously funded by the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation.

In written statements that accompanied their art, two of the students mentioned enjoying the possibilities that come with making art. Dr. Davidson explained that “our emotions can sometimes have us feeling hopeless and like we don’t have options,” and that “exploring art’s many possibilities is a great learning experience.”

“For some kids, art becomes one of the ways they cope with feeling frustrated or stressed,” says Davidson. “And for others, the benefit is more about learning to look at things and situations differently, in more constructive ways.”

Fussell, who guided the students through the various processes of making art, says that “art making is a supportive opportunity for kids to push past the boundaries of their comfort zones and to learn to express themselves.”

Two months ago, none of the students imagined they would be able to show their art and speak to adults and other kids over a three-hour period about their creations. Possibilities realized!