Art therapy is a kind of therapy where people use art to understand and help with mental health issues. This kind of therapy works well for everyone, but it’s especially good for kids and teenagers. The reason is, through art, they can share their thoughts and feelings easily without needing to use difficult words. Also, for teenagers, art therapy doesn’t feel as formal or scary as other types of therapy.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a kind of help where using art helps people feel better mentally. Some therapists might mix art with their work, but to be an Art Therapist (ATR), you need special training and experience. These therapists learn a lot about using art to help people.
There are two main ways art therapy is used. First, it can be added to regular talking therapy, helping to make the therapy better. Second, art itself can be the main way of therapy, where making and thinking about art helps heal.
In art therapy, people might create art or enjoy and talk about art together. Just like any other therapy, the goal is to help people feel happier and healthier in their minds.
Art therapy can really help in different areas, like:
- Talking and understanding each other
- Working through tough experiences
- Moving and using your body
- Handling feelings
- Thinking and solving problems
- Getting along with others
Therapists use many kinds of art to reach these goals, including:
- Drawing and painting
- Keeping a diary
- Writing stories or poems
Art therapy has a lot in common with regular therapy, such as:
- Checking for mental health issues
- Building trust
- Planning how to help
- Keeping track of how things are going
How Is Art Therapy Adapted for Children & Teens?
Art therapy for Kids is a great way to help kids and teenagers. It lets the therapist and the young person do something fun and creative together, like making and enjoying art. This helps them share feelings and learn about emotions and getting along with others. Sometimes, kids find it easier to show their feelings in art than to talk about them.
The way art therapists work can change depending on their style and how old the kids are. For example, teenagers might use music, dance, acting, or writing in a diary to explore different feelings and ideas.
Art therapists have lots of materials to choose from, like:
- Watercolor paints
- Acrylic paints
- Craft paper
- Sand trays
Each of these can help kids and teens express themselves in their own special way.
Common Art Therapy Techniques & Tools for Kids & Teens
Art therapists often choose to work with certain age groups, like kids or teens, and they have their own favorite ways of doing things. They might work in different places, like hospitals, their own offices, community mental health centers, or schools.
Here are six common ways they help kids and teens with art therapy:
1. Art Therapy Assessments
Art therapists use tests to understand how a young person is feeling. Some tests are the same as those used by other therapists, like checking for sadness or worry. They also have special art tests, like asking a child to draw a person, a house, a tree, or use art to show how they think and feel.
2. Visual Art Methods
These methods can show how a person feels inside and help make emotions better. The person in therapy and the therapist talk about the art supplies, colors, symbols, things in the art, and what they want to learn about.
Some visual art methods are:
- Drawing whatever comes to mind
- Making collages
- Creating sculptures
- Designing mandalas
- Drawing a picture of a family
3. Acting Methods
Art therapists might use acting methods like the “empty chair” or family modeling. These help the therapist understand the person’s problems, help the person notice their emotional habits, and find ways to handle their feelings better.
4. Writing Methods
Writing letters, keeping a journal, and making poems can help a lot after tough times. These are common ways to help people. They make a safe place for sharing complicated feelings in a helpful way.
Therapists might ask people to write about things like:
- Imagining a perfect day
- Writing down things they are thankful for
- Telling about a dream or memory
5. Dance and Body Movement Methods
Dancing and acting out without speaking are common ways to help people show their feelings, learn about themselves, and try new ways of acting.
6. Music Methods
Finding or listening to music that makes different feelings happen is a way to learn about being aware of the moment, managing feelings, and showing emotions better. These can include playing drums together, making music as a group, or listening to music together, which helps use these skills with others.
Art Therapy Timeline for Children & Teens
How long art therapy takes depends on how serious the main problem is. Usually, sessions last for 50 minutes and happen every week to help get better over time. Planning to do this for 3-6 months is a good idea. When it ends depends on the treatment plan, which is made together and focuses on the most troubling feelings or problems.
Art therapists might keep going with the treatment until they see that the person has learned good ways to cope or made improvements. This shows they’re ready to move on.
Some signs that someone is ready to finish art therapy might be:
- Feeling less worthless
- Not feeling so hopeless, especially for those who are depressed
- Wanting to do things more
- Enjoying things they used to like again
Is Art Therapy Good for Kids and Teens?
Some people might question how art therapy techniques changes the brain. But lots of studies and research show it really helps improve how we think. A study in 2021 showed that creative art therapies work well, and more and more evidence supports this.
A big study on art, dance, drama, and music therapy found that the mental health benefits come from what’s called the Adaptive Response Theory. This theory helps people change from less helpful ways of thinking (like daydreaming) to better ways, by helping them connect differently with the world and themselves.
Finding an Art Therapist for Your Kid or Teen
To find an art therapist for your child, start by asking their school counselor or doctor for suggestions. Your insurance might also have a list of therapists they recommend. You can also look online to find therapists and read about them. Most therapists will talk with you first, so you can decide if they’re right for your child’s needs.
Art Therapy Activities to Do at Home for Kids and Teens
Families can use art therapy ideas to have fun, connect, understand their feelings, and get to know each other better.
Here are some art therapy activities you can try at home:
- Drawing or Painting Feelings: Get out different art supplies and draw or paint what you’re feeling. Talk about why you chose certain colors or shapes. Try to guess what feeling each drawing shows. You can also draw or paint how a song makes you feel.
- Journaling: Have fun making a shared or personal journal. You can use a simple notebook or make one as an art project. You could focus the journal on things like being thankful, nature, or family trips. Look up journal ideas online or on YouTube, like ones for calming anxiety.
- Zentangle Drawing: This is drawing inside a small square, focusing on the moment. It has many ways to do it and can help kids and teens relax, focus, breathe calmly, and be present.
Art therapy can really help kids with different emotional and physical problems. If you think it might help your child, try talking to their doctor, school counselor, or look for local help to find an art therapy place near you.