The Function of Art-Making in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing with Children and Youth

by Katharyn E. Morgan

The functions of art-making in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) with children and youth have not previously been fully examined. This study furthers the inquiry in this area by documenting the inclusion of art-making in four specific debriefings with a total of 29 participants, ages 8 to 18 years. The art created by the participants during the debriefings was analyzed from phenomenological and psychoanalytic perspectives.  Theory and practice in the fields of art therapy and the treatment of trauma contributed to the recognition of patterns in the way that the art-making was used.  Four functions of the art-making in this context were identified: (a) to increase comfort and emotional safety, (b) to promote expression of thoughts and feelings, (c) to enhance appropriate containment of emotion, and (d) to support ego-strengths. These were illustrated with examples of the art and verbal comments made by the participants. The results strongly supported the ongoing use of art-making to maximize the effectiveness of CISD interventions with children and youth.