Art Therapy

with Adolescents

In art therapy, the client is asked to create a collage, make some marks on paper, or shape a small piece of clay to illustrate the difficulties that have brought them to therapy. The art therapist does not interpret the art piece, and the clients are free to share as much of the meaning of their art as they choose.

Adolescents, in particular, are attracted to making symbols and graphic depictions, so they are more attracted to using art as language than to verbal questioning. When the negative behavior is illustrated, it is then external to the individual, so the problem is seen to be not the individual but the behavior.

As adolescents mature, they develop the ability to understand abstract concepts and to form judgments. The greatest difficulty for an adult seeking to establish a relationship with an adolescent is the teen’s resistance to authority and lack of trust in the adult world. These stages of adolescent development are normal, but they work against the traditional forms of verbal therapy.

Art as an expressive language provides an entrance into a relationship with teenagers by tapping into their creativity and offering a form of communication that is nonthreatening and over which the adolescent has control. When teens enter the art therapy room, they find drawing materials and other forms of media on a table. They are invited to draw anything they choose and even to make a statement in images that represent their feelings about being in the therapeutic setting.

This casual approach is a surprise to the teen and counteracts the fears of exposure and pain that may have been expected. The art materials are more than meet the eye. The art therapist understands the evocative powers of, for example, oil pastels, clay, paint, and felt pens. Each form of media, in its own way, assists in the expressive process. The teens feel that they “lucked out” by having a therapist who is not interested in verbal cross-examination. Instead, their therapist is interested in their opinions of their world as expressed through imagery.

Acknowledgement – Shirley Riley, 1 Phillips Graduate Institute, 3445 Balboa Blvd, Encino, CA 91316

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