Using Art and Poetry Therapy to Treat Teen Depression

The psychological illness of depression, especially teen depression, is a worldwide epidemic. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) expects depression to be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world by 2020. And a recent report from the WHO indicates that the rates of suicide have increased 60% over the past 50 years.


Surprisingly, this is not only for industrialized nations, but for developing countries as well. There seems to be a relationship between the growing urbanization of the world and the increase in mental illnesses among the world population. Perhaps it is the inaccessible beaches and parks that are common to cities. Perhaps it is then the distance from nature, from others, and from oneself. In a city, adults and adolescents tend to stay focused on their individual lives, lost in their smart phones, and having their attention shift from one piece of technology to another. There’s no real connection that might be satisfying and psychologically nourishing.


This might have its affect on American adolescents as well. Depression continues to be a common mental illness among teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 8% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Across the length of adolescence, one in five teens have experienced depression at some point in their teenage years. NAMI also points out that in clinical settings, such as group homes, hospitals, or rehabilitative centers, as many as 28 percent of youth experience teen depression.


Typically, treatment for depression includes psychotropic medication as well as individual or group therapy. However, a recent report published in the International Journal of Academic Research indicates that art and poetry therapy are finding their place in the treatment of teen depression. They are both seen as effective methods for reducing symptoms.


The report included the results of a study done on the effects of poetry therapy. The study took 29 girls whose scores on the Beck Depression Scale indicated significant symptoms of depression. The girls underwent seven sessions using poetry therapy, and later reported less symptoms of depression. The results of the study revealed that poetry therapy plays a significant role in reducing the symptoms of depression.


Art and poetry therapy work with a teen’s images and provides an opportunity for self-expression. At times, when the mind is inflicted by disease, these images might be self-destructive, leading to teen addiction, depression, and suicide. Art and poetry therapy provide the opportunity for teens to:


  1. Express themselves in a creative way, which is different than talk therapy
  2. Replace old images with new ones.


When teens express themselves through art, they activate a different part of the brain that seems to speak a different language. The unconscious mind speaks mostly through images, symbols, dreams, and metaphor. Since art is made up of images, it can be a way to access this particular part of the mind. Talking concerns out, as in traditional individual therapy, can also be therapeutic, yet at times; it can be necessary to reach for those deeply embedded images that might be self-destructive.


It is easy to develop an unhealthy self-image as a result of trauma. Often, because children are not yet developed psychologically, they attempt to explain the trauma by taking the blame for it. Rather than placing the blame on their parents, whom they need for their survival, in their under-developed minds, it makes more sense for children to take the blame for physical or sexual trauma.


Sadly, destructive self-images stay with children even after they’ve grown up into adolescence and adulthood. What art and poetry therapy can do is explore those inner images and replace them. Through the use painting and poetry, teens can recreate their inner images so that they support their life.


Art and poetry therapy are so effective that there are psychologists and therapists who specialize in this therapeutic modality. Plus, as teens are navigating the terrain of adolescence, art therapy can be particularly useful for them because during this life stage, the brain is still in its development. Even if a teen is not working with a therapist, painting out inner images or describing them in poetry can be a therapeutic tool to use when feeling the full range of emotions that comes with being a teenager.




Arian Parsa, N., & Harati, S. (2013). ART THERAPY (POETRY THERAPY) CAN REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF DEPRESSION. International Journal Of Academic Research, 5(4), 149-152. doi:10.7813/2075-4124.2013/5-4/B.22