Home representations of at-risk children in an emergency shelter

Ofir Shtern-Eden, Michal Bat Or

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Research is limited about the home representations of at-risk preschool children staying in emergency shelter care. Aims: To examine representations of home in the house drawings and play narratives of eight at-risk children aged 5–6.5 years, in emergency shelter care. The one-on-one sessions held with the children has a uniform structure of a drawing task followed by play, forming an intermodal transfer. Methods: The qualitative data analysis of the drawing processes, the drawings and observation of the dramatic play is based on phenomenological and thematical approaches. Results: Three main themes were found: the house as a threatening space; expressions of difficulties in creating and maintaining the potential space; the added value of using drawing and play in the context of difficulties in creating or maintaining the potential space. Implications for practice and future research: The study’s findings illustrate the potential advantage of intermodal transfer–this apparently allowed them to move between languages of expression, and offered them different opportunities for emotional regulation. In addition, the different layers of information that were expressed can help art therapists to support the child’s mentalization process. Future research is encouraged to further examine home representations of at-risk children with larger sample using intermodal transfer. Conclusions: The study’s findings demonstrate the paradox that is bound within the invitation to draw/play about painful contents in art therapy, and the possible advantage in using intermodal transfer to mend the potential space’s interruptions and to enable further expression and working through. Plain-language summary: The present study sought to examine home representations of eight maltreated children (age 5–7 years) staying in an emergency shelter in Israel, following domestic violence, abuse, and neglect. During individual meetings with the first author, the children were invited to draw a house using coloured pencils, and then to play the events happening in the drawn house, using a set of tiny animal figures, and a magic wand. Qualitative analyses of the data identified three main themes: the first was the house as a threatening space that exposes the figures to negative events such as rejection, injury and death; the second theme identified the children’s play/creative-space as interrupted and fragmentary; for example, there were pauses in the drawing process and/or play due to repetitive behaviours such as sharpening pencils; the third theme was the potential advantage of movement between drawing and play mediums that enables these children to express themselves despite interruptions in the play/creative space. Thus, we suggest that the invitation to engage in two expressive mediums during art therapy sessions may enable the child to move back and forth between them, while creating additional opportunities for expressing the unbearable on one hand and keeping a safe distance from these contents on the other. We recommend future research based on a session that provides access to different creative mediums, thus enabling further exploration of at-risk children’s expressiveness; a better understanding of the experiences of these children; and a better grasp of their needs in therapeutic contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-134
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 British Association of Art Therapists.


  • Children at risk
  • art therapy
  • drawing
  • intermodal transfer
  • play
  • representations of home

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Psychology


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