How can expressive therapies deal with adolescents?

Teen sitting at the table, paintingI remember being a teenager in counseling. I remember spending my hands and sitting on the couch silently for three sessions, listening to the therapist talking and asking questions. Eventually the provider acknowledged that it was probably not the right one for me and I was released from the requirement to attend counseling.

As with most teenagers, I came to treatment without options. I was expected to reveal my internal processes to a stranger at a stage of life where I really believed that all I needed was to handle the problems and get advice from friends I trust.

This is a common scenario for teenagers. it is well suited for people in this age group to have some resistance to speaking with a therapist. Perhaps speech is not always the right answer for teenagers. Exactly outside the sphere of treatment-based therapies are expressive art therapies, which can attract adolescents using their developmental needs and their level of independence in dealing with various issues in counseling.

Teens in Therapy: Why there is resistance

The ages of young people aged 12 to 19 are in a single stage of development: the life stage "Who am I?" and "What can I do?". Erikson described this phase of confusion as to identity and role and contained the main tasks of self-revelation and starting independently in adulthood. During this period, adolescents experience both internal and external developmental transitions that reach all areas of life: social, emotional, relational, physical and self-evident. It is stretching from high school to junior high school, where teenagers move away from adult dependency and start counting things for themselves.

Although an important process, this personalization can be a natural challenge for adolescents entering counseling. Teenagers may seem resilient in speaking with an adult and may not tend to ask for help. Also, teenagers are generally not volunteer clients. these come from carers, judges, teachers or other members of the authority. And once in counseling, teenagers can see the provider as another adult who hinders his efforts for autonomy.

Whether it is part of the process of resilience or other factors, teenagers can also present plans for total denial of present emotions and / or circumstances. When asked how they feel, a common answer may be, "I'm fine" or "I do not know." Resistance based on denial occurs while advising teenagers for many reasons, such as:

  • Lack of confidence in the provider
  • Limited knowledge due to age and brain development
  • There are no visible benefits for exchange and emotional avoidance

What are the therapies of expressive art?

Expressional art therapies introduce action and imagination into counseling and psychotherapy (McNiff, 1981, Malchiodi, 2005). The "action" introduced can come from a variety of creative sources, including art, dance and movement, music, poetry and writing, drama or any combination of them.

Used in conjunction with or in addition to discussion-based advice, expressive art therapies offer teenagers a variety of ways to engage in counseling while meeting their developmental needs and honoring their ways of interacting with the world.

Used in conjunction with or in addition to discussion-based advice, expressive art therapies offer teenagers a variety of ways to engage in counseling while meeting their developmental needs and honoring their ways of interacting with the world.

Expressive art therapies are based on the belief that engaging in creativity is not just healing but provides ways to process emotions, solve problems, increase insight, address feelings and thoughts, self-awareness, and connect with others directly or indirectly. They focus on a holistic approach that works together and recognizes all parts of a person: physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual (Malchiodi, 2005). Expressional art therapies are also accessible to all who do not require formal education or experience.

Facilitated by qualified, certified and authorized therapists, expressive art therapies include:

How expressive arts treatments can help teens

Expression art therapies adapt to all needs and age ranges, but may be particularly suited to adolescents due to their stage of life. As adolescents experience changes as they grow older, one of the main goals of expressive therapies is to help integrate social, emotional, physical and cognitive aspects of being, while offering support in dealing with and expressing emotions.

In addition, expressive art therapies work in action-oriented ways that invite adolescent clients to participate actively rather than passively. This is a contrast to traditional speech-based therapies – the teenager will offer the act of doing instead of listening to a therapist's speech or expecting to answer questions for an hour. The action of completing a work, whether it be art, music, dramatic action or writing, can help a teenager feel successful and empowered at a counseling session.

Participation in expressive art therapies also talks about the teenage biological need for independence. Expressional art therapies can be done independently or with others. For teens seeking freedom to work through problems without the help of adults, expressive arts offer teens a compromise.

Working with art in therapy can give teens a safe distance from the therapist, especially in a newly established relationship. The selected medium can act as a bridge between the teenager and the therapist and can allow the teenager to uncover or communicate more thoughts and feelings in a way that feels secure. Because there is no wrong or correct way to engage in exponential art therapies, teenagers have the autonomy to choose the amount of effort and commitment they put into the session.

Since teenagers have a newly created ability for abstract thinking, work through expressive arts can speak particularly in this age range. Daily communication for teenagers can include pictures, music, excerpts and personal expression through fashion and emojis. Expressive art therapies are based on work in creative space and the use of transport to express feelings, solve problems, gain insight and manage feelings. A teenager may feel more connected to the work involved in healing if he talks about everyday experiences and ways of communicating with the world.

Finally, expressive art therapies offer space for teenagers to learn skills without strict instruction or teaching. While teenagers are engaged in emotional processing, identity exploration, and problem solving through expressive arts, they also learn self-regulation, emotional naming, self-awareness, and coping skills (and all without worksheets!).

Expressive art therapies are highly customizable forms of treatment that can meet the various needs and symptoms of teenagers. Start here to look for an expressive art therapist in your area.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York, New York: Norton.
  2. Malchiodi, C. A. (2005). Expensive treatments. New York, New York: Guilford Press.
  3. McNiff, S. (1981). The arts and psychotherapy. Springfield, IL: Thomas.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. The marketing authorization was granted by Melinda S. Malher-Moran, MA, LMHC, BC-DMT, a therapist in Indianapolis, Indiana

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