Creative arts therapy is the use of the art process and artwork to explore emotions, resolve internal conflicts, improve self-awareness and social skills, and manage behaviors. Art therapy can also improve self-esteem and ease anxiety or depression. Art therapy can include various mediums, including painting, collages, drawing, photography, music, drama, creative writing, and more. There are a number of diagnoses where art therapy can be a valuable form of treatment, ranging from ADHD, anxiety or depression, and bipolar disorder to PTSD, addiction, and learning disabilities. Take a look at some of the ways that creative arts therapy can benefit teenagers.
Art Therapy Gives Teens Tools to Communicate
It can be difficult for young people to express exactly what they’re feeling and what’s driving their behavior. Art therapy gives teens tools to express themselves more fully and honestly than they may be able to during ordinary conversation.
For young people who have learning disabilities or are on the autism spectrum, words may not come as easily as they do for other adolescents. These teenagers may find it easier to show rather than tell, and art projects and creative pursuits are a constructive way for them to show their emotions without having to verbalize them.
However, art therapy can also be a helpful form of therapy even for teens who are good at verbal communication. Adolescents are observant and can easily pick up on the lingo used in therapy. They’re often good at understanding what the “right” answers are and at giving those answers, even if they aren’t the most honest answers. Sometimes teens are eager to please and want to be seen as successful or not a bother to others, so they use language to downplay their feelings. They may also use language to avoid admitting to certain behaviors as a way to avoid getting into trouble.
Art therapy can allow therapists to get past language that teens use to disguise their real feelings and better understand things that a teenager is not yet comfortable saying out loud. Interpreting a piece of artwork or a musical performance can help a therapist understand more about what’s going on in a teenagers mind, and it can help the teenager learn more about their own motivations and feelings.
Creative Arts Therapy Increases Trust
In traditional art classes, the focus is on learning to work with a particular medium and create better art. This involves some level of criticism. But art therapy is about understanding and helping the artist, not necessarily improving the art.
Therefore, art produced in art therapy is viewed in a non-judgmental way. Therapists work to understand what the artist is telling them with their art, not to critique the artist’s process or finished work.
This can be very important for teens who fear rejection or anger for speaking their minds and giving voice to their true feelings and experiences. A teen may not initially feel safe verbalizing what they’re going through to a therapist, especially if they’re accustomed to avoiding verbalizing those feelings to others in their lives.
Creating art is not only a safe way for teens to express their inner thoughts without having to state them outright, but it also fosters trust between teen and therapist when the therapist accepts the teen’s work without judgment. When the teenager sees that their therapist can accept and understand their creative work, they may be more willing to open up verbally as well.
Art Therapy Raises Self-Esteem
Although creative arts therapy focuses on allowing self-expression rather than improving the artistic process or developing artistic talent, many teens are still able to produce beautiful art that they enjoy in art therapy. Art doesn’t necessarily need to be ready to sell, perform for an audience, or display in a gallery in order to be good art – what matters is that the artist is happy with their efforts.
For teens, spending time creating art can feel productive and finishing a project can be very satisfying. Teenagers can feel pride in the work, care, and feeling that they put into creating their art. These feelings can help raise a teen’s self-esteem.
Positive self-esteem is important for everyone, but adolescents with and without mental health problems struggle with it. Self-esteem contributes to a teen’s ability to take charge of and manage their own life with confidence and allows them to learn and grow from mistakes without the fear that one mistake negates other good things in their lives. For teens struggling with mental health disorders, building self-esteem can be vital to their journey, and art therapy is one way to do that.
Teenagers aren’t always aware of all of their own feelings, and mental health problems only complicate things further. Teens may deny that there’s anything wrong or that they’re experiencing strong emotions, even to themselves. In other cases, young people may know that they don’t feel the way that they want to, but may not be able to identify what they are feeling or pinpoint the reason for their feelings.
Creative arts therapy can give the artist a window into their own thoughts, as well as the therapist. By focusing on creating art and following their own artistic process, adolescents in art therapy may find themselves creating something that exposes feelings that they didn’t know they had, or that they couldn’t interpret until they saw an artistic representation.
Increased self-awareness is important to a young person’s pursuit of better mental health and a more fulfilling life. It’s often unconscious beliefs or patterns of behavior that create problems. Art that exposes these unconscious beliefs or behavior patterns can help teens understand them and make changes if necessary.
Creating art is a highly individual process, and each artist has something different to express with their art. Art therapy can be a powerful way to provide adolescents with individualized therapeutic treatment that addresses their specific needs and feelings.