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Monday, March 27, 2017

Artplay helps children through expressive therapy

Brain tumor survivor Mia Foutz making a narrative story at Artplay in Phoenix. Photos: Liz Tomko.

Brain tumor survivor Mia Foutz (8), of Scottsdale, makes a narrative story at Artplay in Phoenix. Photos: Liz Tomko.

When Phoenix resident Liz Tomko founded Artplay in 2010, she traveled among pediatric offices to provide expressive arts therapy for young patients facing mostly physical ailments. But Tomko also wanted to focus on children’s emotional needs. She opened her own location three years ago, then moved to a new space in Central Phoenix last November.

The area offers art therapy activities—like painting—to help children process feelings they might have difficulty verbalizing. There is also a hideout area and garden. Tomko says she chose the setting to soothe kids who feel frightened in clinical settings.

Tomko holds a masters degree in counseling with a specialty in expressive arts therapy. Many of the children she sees have attention deficit hyperactivity disorders or attachment disorders. The latter occur in children “when there’s no early bonding with their mother,” says Tomko. Some of her clients have experienced traumatic loss, such as a parent’s suicide. Others fall somewhere along the autism spectrum.

Tomko currently works with 60 children between the ages of 4 and 16. Generally, she conducts five sessions a day. Kids come every other week for 50 minutes and have expressive therapy homework in between. Most see her for a period of six to 12 months.

What happens in art therapy?

Declan Mancilla with an Artplay weighted snake.

Declan Mancilla (6), of Phoenix, with an Artplay “weighted” snake.

Artplay sessions use feeling-based games, art-making, sensory play and movement to help children explore their feelings. Sensory activities include making lotion, mixing snow, exploring shaving cream and mixing play dough. Art interventions include making a safe-place box, creating a wish cake from clay, decorating a super hero cape and painting an animal mask.

“These activities help with things such as self-soothing, empowerment and creating a positive self-identity,” says Tomko. Sessions take place under a forest-like tent while parents relax on a comfortable couch. Parents get post-session emails with suggestions for helping their children at home.

Artplay therapy tools

Earlier this year, Tomko started her own line of Artplay expressive therapy tools. “It’s difficult to find unique and useful therapy products that have been proven to help these kids with issues such as sadness, fear and anger,” says Tomko.

Her offerings include a “Feeling Faces” big bingo game, “Emotion Lotion” kits, “Sand Play Tray” container, “Let’s Face It” dry-erase booklet, “Soothing Spheres” buckets, two-feet-tall “Wall Pals” and more. Tomko credits her weighted vests and snakes with helping to “calm kids’ nervous systems.”

Tomko has also written a book called Artesia Goes to School to help reduce school anxiety and sells Kristin Anderson Cetone’s Buckaroo Buckeye Book designed to boost self-esteem and foster a positive world view. Parents can order Artplay products online.

Tomko welcomes art supply donations from community members and puts half the proceeds of Artesia Goes to School toward scholarships for children who cannot afford her expressive arts therapy services. Learn more.

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Lynn Trimble

Lynn Trimble of Scottsdale is an award-winning arts writer and mother of three grown children whose work has appeared in Raising Arizona Kids and Phoenix New Times.

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