Treatment for Behavioral and Social Problems: How Art Can Help Teens & Young Adults

The process of creating art is inherently therapeutic. As Picasso put it, “painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” For adolescents suffering from behavioral, emotional, or substance-abuse issues, art therapy has proven to be highly successful in its approach to treatment. When seeking treatment for behavioral and social problems in teens and young adults, art therapy can be a highly effective means of overall balance and well being.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is founded on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic endeavors is transformative and healing. It is the therapeutic activity of creating art and reflecting on the products and processes in a way that is geared towards achieving personal growth and insight. Through drawing, painting, sculpting, and other art forms, individuals are encouraged to explore and express their inner feelings. This creative process is used as a tool for self-reflection, with the overall aim of improving a person’s sense of personal well being and restoring healthy social, mental and behavioral functionality.

Art therapy is primarily focused on expressing what is within oneself and on developing that inner image. The focus is not on the outside world, but rather on the inner experience—thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions and imaginations. The role of the art therapist is to facilitate personal exploration by guiding the participant through the creative process in a therapeutic way, and to discuss the meaning of the art to the person and the feelings and thoughts that it evokes. The goal is not to impose arbitrary meanings and interpretations from the therapist’s perspective, but to explore what that art means to the person that created it.

Art therapy is used to:

    • Express and identify feelings
    • Resolve emotional conflicts
    • Nurture self-awareness
    • Treat behavioral problems
    • Manage addictions
    • Lower anxiety
    • Improve self-esteem
How does art therapy succeed?

Traditional forms of therapy can often fail to be effective for many teens and young adults suffering from behavioral, mental health or substance-abuse issues. At this age, many are ill equipped to handle the emotional and social difficulties they are experiencing. They are adverse to change, and resist those in roles of authority. They are also reluctant to talk, and often do not know how to express their inner emotions verbally. This can result in added feelings of frustration, anger, and an unwillingness to transform.

By design, art therapy breaks down barriers between patient and therapist. By focusing on the art and the process of making art, individuals feel less like they are in treatment, and more like they are on a personal discovery. In interpreting the art with a therapist, teens and young adults are often able to verbalize for the first time the feelings that underlie their behavioral and mental issues. Art therapy allows individuals to express themselves in images, drawings and paintings when they do not have the words. It gives participants the tools for self-reflection and personal growth by offering a way for them to reveal their identity in a non-imposing and non-threatening way. The process of making art awakens emotional attitudes that would otherwise remain dormant in a traditional therapeutic setting.

The act of making art and discussing and interpreting those works of art is seen as a process of emotional repair. Art offers a medium where individuals can both communicate about themselves and confront themselves. The practice of art therapy allows individuals to express themselves freely, to explore ideas and thoughts that are difficult to discuss, and to challenge their current ways living.

For more information regarding treatment for behavioral and social problems in teens and young adults and additional effective methods, including art therapy, call Rites of Passage Wilderness at (800)794-0980.