Art therapy uses materials such as paint, oil pastels, markers, clay or crayons as a means of self-expression. The process of working with the materials and creating a final product helps troubled teens gain self-understanding, learn better coping methods and work through problems.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapists are specially trained in both psychological and artistic principles which directs them in choosing the materials and focus appropriate to a teens' specific needs. In art therapy sessions a teen is asked to use the materials to develop art around a certain idea such as: create a portrait of how others see you or paint what your sadness feels like.
This therapeutic approach appeals to many teens as a way to externalize their inner world. The therapist does not interpret the final product, it's up to the teen to verbally share whatever information they choose. A teen does not need to have any artistic talent to benefit from this approach.
In this type of specialized therapy the focus is on the process of creating and to a lesser extent on the final product. The teen is encouraged to verbalize during the process of creating and comment on their reactions to the final product. Creating is the primary initial focus, increased self-understanding usually comes later.
Advantages of Art Therapy
Traditional individual therapy can feel like cross-examination to some teens. Others don't express themselves well verbally. In some cases a teen's problems are too painful or complicated to put into words.
As a type of expressive therapy, art therapy works very well with some teens because it is:
- Non-threatening with less direct focus on the teen
- A safe outlet for expressing what's inside
- A process over which the teen feels a sense of control
- Interesting and creative
- A way to discover underlying thoughts and feelings
- Easier to develop a strong relationship with the therapist
For some teens art is a better language than talking in which to communicate. Because this is an attractive type of therapy for teens, they are more likely to continue to participate and stick with the process until problems improve.
Art therapy programs are offered in most residential programs for teens and are also available on an outpatient basis.