Art therapy for children and teens: solving problems through a creative process
Art therapy is a concrete visual way to create freedom of expression for children or teens when it is difficult to find words for the complex feelings and emotions they are experiencing. As an art therapist, I have seen young people use the art process as a way to communicate ideas and feelings in powerful ways. Information from the unconscious mind can be released through the art to assist in solving problems. Sometimes, only after the art is created can feelings be processed enough to express in words. Art therapy can be used as an assessment tool and means for gaining access to a child or teen’s inner world, and art making itself can provide a novel way to creatively engage in exploring new ways of perceiving problems and finding answers. Media used can include pencil, pen, crayons, markers, pastels, colored pencils, paint, clay, collage, and crafts.
Oftentimes once a problem has been successfully worked through in the art, it can then be generalized and applied to real life experience. Art therapy is also often a safe way for young people to share and present distress, and the process of creating and experiencing in the art can reinforce successes and change in their lives. New ideas and feelings are expanded, highlighted, and transformed.
A strength-based approach to art therapy
Young people can feel powerless to change problems they are experiencing. However, when they feel they are not the problem and it is no longer a part of their identity, they are often motivated to use their ingenuity and other inherent strengths to take charge of the problem in a spirited and playful way. Art therapy for children and teens can be easily used to carry out this goal. I highlight and reinforce the unique exceptions to the problem-saturated story presented and as an art therapist, I can then help in the visual creation of a new story based upon these more preferred events and successful outcomes. By using a strength-based approach paired with a familiar form of expression, during the art therapy process feelings of competency and self-esteem are increased. Both the “problem” and “inner strength” can be externalized, separated from the child or teen, and also can be created visually through art therapy. Positive self-talk can be developed and reinforced, while negative self-talk can be explored and challenged. As resources are uncovered, and the “problem” becomes more manageable and seen as apart from the young person’s sense of self, he or she can then become empowered to find new solutions.