Begbie, McGregor, Polding

Group analytic art psychotherapy group for children in an in-patient psychiatric ward


Sheena McGregor, Jacqui Begbie & Sandra Polding


Uncomfortable truths are often revealed and expressed in art therapy groups, particularly when the children involved also live together for extended periods in an in-patient setting for children with early onset mental health difficulties, emotional and relational difficulties. This presentation explores what happens in art therapy groups where the primary drive is towards the search for authenticity and truth, expressed in both visual images and verbal interaction. Image-making within a therapeutic relationship is part of the treatment plan in recovery from disabling symptoms such as eating disorders, impulsivity, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, aggression, and social isolation.

The group described has run for over 13 years. In early years the group was the only art therapy intervention present in the ward. Acting out through aggression towards the room, therapists and each other through discharge and destruction of art materials, left the room in a state chaos. Individual art therapy was introduced, running concurrently with the art therapy group. Acting out radically decreased through this added layer of containment. Many of the children had experienced trauma in their early lives; parental addiction had resulted in removal to live with extended family.  Parental conflict, separation and loss often resulted in the children feeling they were to blame for the family breakdown, with associated feelings of shame, often masked by uncontrollable anger. Sometimes the anger turned inward, producing eating disorders, low self-esteem and self-harming. Most of the children were socially isolated; many had never had a friend. Within the group setting intense bonds formed as they brought truths adults often do not wish to hear.  Images show the richness of communication, as avenues opened to express fears and anxiety, growing connectedness, sadness and loss when children left the group. Being able to express hidden truths appeared to promote emotional growth and dissolve feelings of shame.



Jacqui Begbie qualified as a Group Analytic Psychotherapist (Group Analysts) from the Institute of Group Analysis, Glasgow, Scotland in 2009, having worked within child psychiatry since 2000 as an Occupational Therapist. Her 18 years in child psychiatry has been working in an inpatient unit which provides for children & families with severe and complex disorders and/or systemic breakdown in the family or care system.  

Her post in the service was a unique role which combined Group Analysis with Occupational Therapy Prior to this her career path in occupational therapy had been in physical rehabilitation and as head of an acute service. She was instrumental in securing creative therapy provision within the service and has been privileged to jointly undertake group therapy with Art, Drama and Music Therapists over many years.  She facilitated the GAAT project (Group Analytic Art Therapy for Children) with Sheena McGregor, Art Psychotherapist over the last 14 years. This collaboration expanded to incorporate the systemic approach of family therapy (and speech therapy) when Sandra Polding, Family Therapist & Speech Therapist, joined as the third group facilitator in 2014, until the project ended in 2018 due to organizational changes.  Her particular interest is trauma, neurodevelopment difficulties and the interplay of group analysis with art therapy as a means of repairing deficits.  Organizational changes in 2018 meant Jacqui had to leave children’s services and is now working as an Adult Psychotherapist/Group Analyst in an NHS service in Glasgow. 

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Sheena McGregor  After studying Printmaking and Painting at Glasgow School of Art, I worked as art tutor in the main prison in Glasgow where working with men who had experienced early deprivation led me to train as an art therapist. Areas of interest include fostered and adopted children, early onset mental health difficulties in children and young people, and children with chronic conditions. I keep my own art practice going through painting and ceramics.

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Recent Presentations

2018: (September) Poster Presentation: Royal College of Liaison Psychiatrists, Glasgow

2017: (November) Conference presentation: Visual Phenomena in Health, Kaunas Lithuania Art therapy with children with Heart Conditions

Sandra Polding

Sandra Polding is from Scotland and is very happy to be here at this conference. She first qualified in Speech and Language Therapy in 1987. She has always worked within paediatrics and usually with children who have additional support needs. She enjoyed working with children who were reported to have ‘emotional and behavioural difficulties ‘and admired their energy and ‘spark’.

This led to Sandra working in a child psychiatry unit. It was here that she was lucky enough to find her ‘work family’ and where she gained invaluable experience during her 20 years service.

It was in the unit that Sandra undertook her second training in Family and Systemic Psychotherapy qualifying in 2006. During her time in the unit she admired the art psychotherapy group supporting it from the outside. She was privileged to be invited to become a co-therapist in 2014.

She would describe herself as ‘a clinician at heart’. She reflects that her time spent in the group was the best experience of her working life and that ‘it ticked all her boxes at once’.