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Art Therapy

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

By Catherine Karega | Updated February 17, 2023

The use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health is known as art therapy. This is done in the company of a trained therapist.

Using paint, pastels, markers or clay as a means of self-expression, the process of creating the final product helps troubled teens gain self-understanding, learn better coping methods and work through problems.

Art therapy is often used to help individuals who are experiencing a range of challenges, such as bereavement, family breakdown, anxiety, low mood, low self-esteem, behavioral or social problems, or difficulties relating to abuse, neglect or trauma.

Research has shown that through the use of art as a language of therapy- along with psychotherapeutic techniques- uses all of our capacities to find a more successful resolution to our difficulties.


Traditional ‘talking therapies’ may present difficulties to teenagers who are unable to adequately express themselves verbally in therapy. Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy where the client may be asked to:

  • Make a collage

  • Make some marks on paper for example doodling and scribbling

  • Draw

  • Paint for example using brushes or finger painting

  • Shape a small piece of clay

  • Sculpt

  • Take photographs

The 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.

Exploring their feelings when creating the art or talking about the art work can help to identify themes and conflicts that may be affecting ones thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

What Art Therapy Can Help With

When used in conjunction with other therapy techniques such as group therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, the process of exploration through art has amazing healing properties that help young people:

  • Explore their emotions

  • Strengthen their sense of self

  • Manage stress

  • Work through their problems

  • Learn better coping skills

  • Uncover different aspects of their personalities

  • Boost self-esteem

You do not need to have any artistic talent to benefit from art therapy. While it is helpful in dealing with many psychological disorders, it may not work in all cases and may not be for everyone.

Advantages of art therapy

Some teens may find traditional talk therapy to be overwhelming and may find difficulty expressing themselves. In some cases the challenges they are experiencing are too painful or complicated to put in words.

As a type of expressive therapy, art therapy works well with some teens because it is:

  • Non threatening with less of a direct focus on the teen

  • A safe outlet for expressing what they are feeling inside

  • A process over which the teen feels a sense of control

  • The session is both interesting and creative

  • A way to discover underlying thoughts and feelings

  • Easier to develop a strong relationship with the therapist

It may be daunting to start or engage in art therapy as it is with many forms of therapy. However, art therapy is attractive to teens and they are more likely to stick with the process until their challenges resolve.


  1. The Art of Healing – Using Art as Therapy with Teenagers and Young Adults. (2021, January 29). The Wave Clinic. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

  2. Van Lith T. Art therapy in mental health: A systematic review of approaches and practices. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2016;47:9-22. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2015.09.003

  3. Riley, S. (2001). Art therapy with adolescents. Western Journal of Medicine, 175(1), 54-57. 10.1136/ewjm.175.1.54

  4. Rudlin, K. (2020, October 4). Can Art Therapy Help My Troubled Teen? Verywell Mind. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from

By Catherine Karega, MA Clinical Psychology

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