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Treating the Adolescent: Art Therapy as a Bridge to Communicate

answered 10:40 AM EST, Fri October 14, 2011
My son was badly bullied for years. We tried to get it stopped at the school but nothing worked and we eventually had to uproot the whole family to move to the city so that he could start over in a new school, away from the torment. When things were looking very hopeless for him at his old school he started using drugs and alcohol as a way to kind of escape, and I think, to try to fit in with a different crowd that might offer him some protection. Now he is away from the bullying and he says he is fine, but I know he is still drinking and using drugs and in a lot of pain from the trauma of the last few years.

We have tried getting him individual therapy and even whole family counseling but he won’t open up about what’s really bothering him and about what he is feeling. He just says he is fine when anyone can see that he really is not fine. It’s so hard watching him live with this weight of whatever it is that he can’t or won’t talk about. I wish he could just let it go. Since conventional counseling hasn’t helped, I was wondering if there were any alternative forms of therapy that might be helpful to him so that he could move beyond the bad years of the past? We live in Atlanta.

Jennifer Breslow Says...

Jennifer Breslow J. Breslow
LCAT, ATR-BC, CASAC
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I'm not sure the age of your son, however based on your question, I will assume he's somewhere in the vicinity of adolescence. During the ambivalent and confusing years of adolescence, teenagers have a strong desire to express themselves, though they may resist authority and be wary of talking to adults. Emotions get bottled up and expressed in angry outbursts or other unhealthy ways, such as drug use. Art therapy offers an indirect and non-threatening way of self expression, while giving teenagers a sense of control and autonomy in a world that may not always feel comfortable. Offering this control to a teen may allow for a therapeutic relationship to build more easily, thus creating a foundation for deeper exploration and access to the teenager's inner world. During this time of emerging independence, it is important for the teen to feel empowered and heard.

Art therapy offers a pleasurable experience, which may be in contrast to what a teenager expects to encounter in therapy. Imagery allows for metaphorical and symbolic communication, enabling access to difficult topics that may otherwise be censored or avoided in traditional talk therapy.

Teenagers are image conscious and their idea of talk therapy has largely been influenced by popular culture. They are often resistant to it because they do not want to be perceived as "crazy." Art therapy is something different and they frequently approach it without any preconceived ideas. Art therapy offers teens an opportunity to externalize internal stress, develop individuality and self-esteem, creatively problem solve and communicate honestly and meaningfully through their personal imagery.

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Page last updated Oct 17, 2011

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