Using Spin Art in Play Therapy

Using spin art as a therapeutic tool

SPIN ART and PLAY THERAPY are two of my favorite things.  I was so happy when I started using spin art in session and realized what a great technique it could be therapeutically.  Originally I just thought my own kids LOVE spin art so much that I may as well try to use it in session and see what happens.

Here’s what happened … my clients came up with amazing metaphors while working with this medium.  The statements were all deeply personal and applied directly to their individual therapeutic issues … but also universal.

  • “It turned out much different than I expected.”
  • “If I don’t like how it turns out I can keep changing it until I do.”
  • “It looks cooler with the more that I add to it.”
  • “The different layers that are added make the overall picture change.”
  • “Each one is different.  That’s what makes them special.”
  • “There’s so much … it can’t all stay on the page.  It overflows.”
  • “It looks like arms reaching out and connecting with others.”

In the creating of the art I noticed that clients relaxed, calmed, and had a centered focus.  Watching the paint spin around and change has a somewhat hypnotic aspect to it.  It reminded me of the little I know about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  I believe it is also helpful because it allows clients to talk with making eye contact but still feel connected with me.  I know that research states that children feel more at ease to talk when they aren’t forced into look people in the eye.  Conversations flowed smoothly during the process of creating.

Another wonderful thing about spin art is that it is virtually impossible to make a mistake.  Each painting comes out as a unique piece of art.  This helps kids who have difficulty being “artistic” in other ways get some confidence in their ability to be creative. Additionally, it can help perfectionistic people work on just letting it go and seeing how it turns out without having complete control over the outcome.

I also tried using spin art as a more directive activity where I assigned a different feeling to each  of the different paint colors and as they used those paints I asked them to share a time they felt that particular emotion.  Another time I told them with each paint they used they needed to share something that happened since the last time we had a session … or something that bothers them about their family … or how things are different since their parents got at divorce … etc.  It turned out to be a great way to get kids talking.

I have also used the technique in a family session.  Each family member took a turn adding a paint color to the work in progress.  During creating the art we discussed how everyone “adds something” to the family.  I also gave feedback to the family when I observed power struggles and negative feedback to others.  The process turned into an easy metaphor of the same things that occur with the family at home.

Of all the different types of spin-art “machines” I’ve tried the Cra-Z-Art brand (pictured above) is my favorite (and they are NOT paying me to say that).  Reasons why I like the Cra-Z-Art brand of spin art machine:

  1.  It’s battery operated.  Although hand-cranked ones may be more environmentally friendly, I like that neither the child nor I have to focus on making it spin.  We can focus on the art and talking.
  2. It’s quiet.  Another one I purchased was super noisy and distracting.
  3. It’s easy to clean.  This model has an inclosed motor, which allows you to rinse it out with water without ruining it.  Otherwise I was using a ton of paper towels and it took a lot of time.  This one I can easily clean between sessions.
  4. It’s inexpensive. Only $11.99 on Amazon.

Once you run out of the paper and paint that comes with any of spin art machine you can easily use the last piece as a template to cut an endless supply of “custom” spin art paper. Definitely use cardstock paper because construction or computer paper are not heavy enough to contain the copious amount of paint kids are likely to pour on it.

And, yes, they will use A LOT of paint.  And I let them.  I purposefully by lots of inexpensive washable paint to have a their disposable.  Many children don’t have free access to art supplies and giving them the ability to use as much paint as they want shows that I trust them; they are allowed to express themselves and make their own decisions.  I love the look they give me when I tell them they can use as much as they want to.  They are in control.  They can be responsible.  They can create.

I’d love to hear if use have used spin art in a therapeutic manner.  Please leave me a comment!

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Laura Hutchison

Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.

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  1. Megan @ Coffee Cups and Crayons

    Wow! Their comments were fantastic. We’re going to have to try some spin art!

  2. Susan Case

    Looks like a lot of fun – for any age.

  3. Julie Liddle, ART IN HAND

    I have heard you can also do an easy do-it-yourself version with a salad spinner and paper plates, for a more lo-tech, hands-on version. I haven’t tried it myself, but have seen the results, and it seems pretty satisfying!

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