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Children in Distress: A Guide to Screening Children's Art

This is a one day workshop to put you on the cutting edge of interpreting a child's call for help when enduring a traumatic experience. What a child may not be capable of speaking in words, can be shown by that same child in an art production (drawing) or in their behavioral expression. Because this work is based on research with 864 abused and non-abused children ages, 6-10, the therapist has a platform for presenting child findings in a court of law or as a baseline for treatment intervention. The clinical child interview in Children in Distress and the use of the Sandra Hewitt Screening tool with the Children in Distress analysis provides options for validation and the inclusion of children 4-6 years in the evaluation. This work has been accepted in forensic circles since its inception in 1995. 


Morning Session

Art and drawing help traumatized children externalize their experience. The interpretation of child drawings has been subject of forensic, medical and psychological debate for decades. After 25-years in the practice in forensic medicine, Linda saw therapists struggle with over-analyzing children's art; or being unable to decipher child drawings. Dr. Peterson with the help of Milton Harden MA conceived the idea of developing a book and a workshop standardizing the screening of children's art for professionals.

You will view a series of slides which depict a variety of cases with young children which will teach you how to analyze:

  1. the developmental level of the child who is drawing, as well as

  2. the psychological indicators that are a red flag for trauma intervention.t


Medical students who watched this live presentation were able to remember psychological indicators of child drawings and intervene with children in the family medicine clinic as much as two years after attending this class.

Therapists who have taken this workshop have been able to capably perform as expert witnesses in child abuse court cases. The workshop presents a systematic approach to using two screening instruments: the human figure drawing (HFD) and the kinetic family drawing (KFD). There is an easy-to learn scoring system to quantify children's art-work as normal, borderline or suspicious (refer). These forms can be used in case reports and in court review.

In addition to teaching the scoring system and art identification, Linda presents cases where a child is exposed to parental drug abuse and the child is reluctant to disclose. In addition to art analysis, Milt and Linda developed a standardized interview to assist children to communicate in words. As a cross reference, the Sandra Hewitt interview and drawing approach is utilized to confirm findings from the Children in Distress format. As such, the therapist is advised to use multi-layered approaches to assessment in order to validate findings.

The child interview, the Children in Distress Art Analysis and the Hewitt Art and Screening Evaluation are suggested for each case of suspected abuse. The collection of child drawings over time is advised rather than a one-time drawing and interpretation.

Dr. Peterson teaches this approach nationally for the Trauma and Loss Center (TLC) and internationally in, Germany, France, England and Australia. The book Children in Distress has been translated into Japanese and Czech.

Afternoon Session

Linda is impressed with the power of film to instruct. Using the Horse Whisperer movie by Robert Redfield, Linda teaches the principles of behavior analysis, applied to traumatized children and their parents.

Workshop participants learn:

  1. how to assist parents to actively listen to their traumatized child,

  2. how to reframe negative thinking and speaking,

  3. how to apply positive behavior analysis principles,

  4. how to create and appreciate metaphor, and

  5. how to understand the elements of sensory-based trauma resolution

Linda published a booklet for participants to use clips from the Horse Whisperer movie which is one of the most powerful films produced on the ways trauma should—and should not—be handled with children. In some one-day workshops, and in all two-day workshops, the content also includes the discussion of Resiliency: What makes some abused adolescents thrive while others are maladaptive? Film clips from White Oleander are contrasted with film clips from the movie Sybil.

This work has been taught widely throughout the US to medical, school, court and trauma workers in certification programs with the National Trauma and Loss Institute for Children. It has also been presented by the European Forensic Medicine Society in England and France.

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