A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art to facilitate social, emotional, and cognitive development. Art therapy, in this context, it’s not about creating great art, though that certainly can happen. There’s no need to have any previous experience or background in art. Art therapy is really about engaging one in the creative process, and that’s a strength-based approach that uses one’s ability to think creatively, to creative problem solve, to take risks, to engage in one’s capacity to explore in a safe environment, to further treatment goals.

How It Helps in Recovery

That can be really useful in identity development and in recovery. So when we’re engaging in those parts of the brain that problem solve and that think creatively, we’re also connecting to the visual and spatial centers of the brain. Those are tied to the emotional centers in the brain. When there are feelings and emotions that may be difficult to talk about or difficult to even understand, providing a safe outlet for an individual to acknowledge feelings, to explore feelings, for their feelings to be seen and heard and validated can be really useful.

These can be very vulnerable places inside of us, and the art can serve as a really useful tool and it’s done in a group setting can help decrease feelings of isolation. Everyone is involved in the art-making. It’s not done alone. It’s done in an environment that’s supportive and even oftentimes fun. Last week, we did a project on create a visual map of your recovery that involved the past, where you’ve been, the present, where you are now, and the future of where you would like to be. In that process, it got the participants to have a place where they could put some of the yucky stuff about where they’ve been and the painful aspects of their past and also a place where they could reflect on what they’re doing right now, and then use the image-making process to imagine something different.

All of the different teams were at different stages in their recovery. So those that were where they’d like to be, that had made or met their treatment goals, were able to help encourage those that were at the very beginning stages of just getting here and just arriving and just beginning to face some of the difficulties that they were facing.

Art as a Safe Place

Depression often connects two feelings of isolation, feelings of numbness, of not being in touch with one’s feelings. So because art is generally a very safe place, a very non-confrontational place to externalize some of the feelings that may be held up or even locked up inside, by engaging one in a safe and fun way to get to know some of those feelings, to befriend some of those feelings, can decrease feelings of isolation, decrease the feelings of intensity that some of the feelings can take hold on, and invite the participant to look at some of those feelings at a bit of a distance and get to know them better and have some perspective in their lives.