Using Art Therapy to promote student mental health and wellbeing

Taking a holistic approach to student wellbeing and mental health led us to wonder how we could find a unique way to support students in their living environment, in on-campus housing.

Rather than one-to-one interventions, we were interested in reaching more people by working in groups, and building a sense of community for those residing on-campus.

Art Therapy provided that unique avenue. It can be a powerful means of accessing self-awareness, self-understanding and self-expression through the mindful process of making art. The nonverbal nature of Art Therapy is also very helpful for people with English as a second language (or third or fourth language!).

Establishing the Art Therapy space

Before starting the art group, the proposal was put to staff and community advisors, by letting them experience some Art Therapy exercises for themselves. That process helped make these key people advocates to pass on the message and invite students they feel may benefit from attending.

Every semester, we now run 10-12 sessions. Each weekly session is voluntary and runs for two hours. Establishing safety and ground rules in every session is essential. Then sessions can unfold with self-direction, around a different theme or prompt each week.

In addition to having Nadina’s expertise as a trained art therapist, the sessions required a physical space with storage – provided by Simon Fraser University – and art materials. Donations of all sorts of art supplies are welcome, including paints, chalk & oil pastels, pencil crayons, felts, magazines, scissors, glitter, glue guns, ribbons, string, assorted paintbrushes and other materials.


 The Art Therapy group continues to be a success and makes a positive difference in the lives of our students and I am happy to see this program continue into the Spring Term.
– Staff member from Simon Fraser University

It’s a challenge to gauge the full impact of the Art Therapy on students who have attended as some come along every week and return over multiple teaching periods, while others drop in to experience it.

One student shared this feedback with us: ‘The art group helped me align my thoughts with my emotions and it gave my feelings clarity. Through making art, I experienced a release of my emotions. I was also able to practice skills with others in the group that helped me overcome my social anxiety’.

Below, you can see expressions of artworks produced in session:


If you would like to discuss these ideas or compare notes, please contact Deputy College Director Sharla Reid or Case Manager and Registered Clinical Counsellor Nadina Dodd.

Fraser International College (FIC) has previously shared on this website some other successful strategies they use to support students with scalable mental health services, such as a 24/7 multilingual counselling service. You can also read about their teacher ‘Discover and Discuss’ initiative run at FIC that supports teachers to address diversity that presents in the classroom.

This post has summarised a presentation Nadina and Sharla shared, which you can watch in full here.