In late 2021, The Guild for Human Services was awarded a $19,130 grant from the Sudbury Foundation to support an online expressive arts therapy program for families of nonspeaking children at The Guild School. This spring, The Guild’s counseling department rolled out the program in conjunction with Lesley University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling cohort.

The Guild developed the concept of an online expressive arts therapy program in response to the profound impact of COVID-19 when families could not visit residential students with intellectual disabilities for 77 days. The program sought to support learning Zoom skills and facilitate meaningful connections between parents/caregivers and their children on an online platform.  

The program consisted of four weekly sessions where each participating caregiver met via Zoom with their child and a Lesley University expressive art therapy graduate student. Guild clinicians supervised all Lesley students. The first session focused on navigating Zoom and engaging in the therapeutic process in an online platform. During subsequent sessions, the child and caregiver worked together to design a quilt. Along the way, they shared stories about why they picked each material and how the fabric reflected facets of their relationship.

Throughout the sessions, students and caregivers expressed their feelings towards each other through creative movement and sculpting with clay. This type of arts-based approach makes the therapeutic process accessible to all students, regardless of whether they use verbal language to communicate. Expressive arts therapy accounts for diverse developmental, cognitive, physical, and emotional needs and enables all family members to participate at a similar level of communication.

“I think we were all surprised by how powerful the sessions were,” said Michelle McGonagle, The Guild’s Senior Clinical Advisor of Mental Health. “The program showed parents and caregivers the power of expressive arts therapy and gave them the tools they need to effectively engage with their children via Zoom.”

The Guild looks forward to continuing its partnership with Lesley University moving forward. “I’m proud of the collaboration,” said Michelle. “Lesley’s graduate students were engaging and thoughtful during the sessions, and our Guild clinicians did a fantastic job providing supervision. It was a team effort!”