Treating Adolescents with Art Therapy Techniques: How It Can Help

20th Century Art Final Paper 6 December 2009 Treating Adolescents with Art Therapy Techniques: How it can Help The use of art therapy techniques to assist those young people suffering from depression has gained a great deal of credibility in recent years as evidence has mounted of its efficacy. Simply stated, this paper will argue that art therapy can assist adolescents as readily as its assists the very young and its adaptability makes it excellent as a long-term means of treatment.

By way of explanation, the paper will begin first by exploring a common and effective art therapy technique, outline in brief the positive attributes of art therapy as articulated by Carl Jung and Dr. Natalie Rogers, and finish by noting how the malleable, fluid nature of art therapy allows it to help more young people, more often. With that in mind, it is to an in-depth discussion of art therapy that this paper turns. One of the oldest art therapy techniques – and still one of the best – is the “Draw-A-Story” technique first advanced by Rawley Silver (Dunn-Snow, 1994, para. ). Although a procedure more commonly associated with very young clients, the adaptability of arts therapy allows even a procedure such as this to be adjusted for an older, possibly more cynical, audience. Be that as it may, this technique involves a set of fourteen cards which are presented to the youthful client; the young person is then asked to choose two which he – or she – will combine into a drawing. After doing so, the client is also asked to contribute a title and an accompanying three-sentence story.

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When the picture, title, and story are at last completed, they are scored on a 5-point scale ranging from ‘no depression’ to severely depressed (para. 2). If self-destructive thoughts and/or tendencies are manifested in the artwork, then officials know there is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed (para. 3). Interestingly, as a sidebar, the efficacy of art therapy as a means of ‘screening’ for depression has not been entirely ruled out by pediatricians studying the relationship between art therapy and the detection of both depression and ost-traumatic disorder in renal transplant recipients (Wallace, 2004, 52). While certainly important, the significance of art therapy extends far beyond its perceived revelatory nature. Simply put, art therapies such as the “Draw-A-Story” approach have proved themselves to be a tool for self-empowerment. For instance, the ‘stimulus cards’ presented to the young person in the above-mentioned activity offer the structure and support – and creative impetus – necessary to prompt the client to produce artwork when previous efforts to do so had been met with failure (para. 4).

Additionally, Peggy Dunn-Snow, long a proponent of the therapeutic effects of art-making, has concluded that many young people – especially those in turbulent homes – acquire a welcome sense of control and efficacy when they are able to choose the number and types of cards they wish to incorporate into their work (para. 4). Fundamentally, art is about self-truth – or at least it should be – so it is not surprising that personal revelation is so often found in art. Carl Jung’s contributions to modern psychology are voluminous, but perhaps one of his most under-appreciated contributions came in the field of art therapy.

With his keen interest in the “psychological meaning” present in artwork (Miller, para. 23), Jung gave an intellectual license to art therapy that cannot be lightly passed over; indeed, the famed psychotherapist frequently urged his patients to draw the imagery of their dreams: “To paint what we see before us, is a different art from painting what we see within” (para. 24-25). A troubled adolescent, like a troubled child, may be better suited to put down in drawings or in music what he or she cannot express in simple words.

The Jungian appreciation of the self-expressiveness that lies at the core of artistic endeavour has served as the moral and intellectual underpinning of art therapy for generations. One of the most respected present-day experts in the field of art therapy is Dr. Natalie Rogers. In an undated interview she provided to Renne Levi, Dr. Rogers spoke at length about the personal expressiveness to be found in art – and in art therapy. At one point, she describes her ever-developing view of art therapy thusly: “It is a transformative process in itself and it has to do with combining or integrating movement, art, sound, journal writing nd person-centered type sharing. This does, indeed, connect us to our body, mind, soul, spirit, because it uses all aspects of ourselves” (Rogers, para. 4). Proceeding still further with her discussion of art as a therapeutic tool for healing, she said, “we are embodying a process of getting acquainted with our feelings and thoughts – mostly our feelings – through movement, which helps us be in touch with our feelings. The movement, of course, is non-verbal, and helps us become aware of our feelings. Then we use these feelings to express ourselves through visual art, either through clay or collage or paint.

And while doing all of this we may be using our voices making sounds. Not necessarily words but just sound to express our feelings” (para. 4). In Dr. Roger’s estimation, then, creativity equals expression equals personal emancipation. With the space we have remaining, let us return once again to Dunn-Snow’s article on the “Draw-A-Story” technique. Much of this paper has focused on the self-expressiveness nature of art therapy – especially in the young. However, it has additional applications that can very easily be overlooked.

Chiefly, Dunn-Wood notes that art therapy can be used within groups to promote collaboration via group artistic projects; it is also an excellent tool for encouraging young people – regardless of whether they are children or adolescents – to “(follow) directions, (accept) limits, (solve) problems…and (communicate) effectively” (para. 6). Beyond that, Dunn-Snow does not fail to point out that art therapy is a wonderful tool for overcoming resistance and for providing grounds for conflict resolution (para. 10). Put another way, its applications are as multitudinous as its benefits. This last point is vitally important.

In a November, 1995 article, Lenore Steinhardt wrote at length about the troubles plaguing a borderline psychotic male child who was bedeviled by the untimely death of his father and by his mother’s inability to overcome her loss (para. 1). While the child was, thankfully, eventually relieved of his burdens, this could not have happened had there not been a considerable degree of flexibility present in the art therapy utilized. To wit, it is Steinhardt’s contention that “(i)ntense use of a specific medium [for self-expression] can generate frustration if the therapy is allowed to generate into meaningless repetition” (para. ). Drawing upon the work of Robbins, Steinhardt comments that art therapists – no doubt because of the malleable nature of artistic expression itself – can “develop flexibility and range in the use of different expressive modalities” so that not only is frustration forestalled, but the therapy changes seamlessly in accordance with changes in the client (para. 1). Art therapy, therefore, is neither doctrinaire nor rigidly circumscribed, and this characteristic allows it to help a great many young people as they grow into their adolescence and ‘outgrow’ earlier modalities.

In closing, this paper has taken a close look at art therapy. It began with a discussion of the salubrious effects of Rawley’s “Draw-A-Story”, proceeded from there to consider a defense of art therapy as presented by Jung and Rogers, and concluded with a brief review of how the flexible, diverse nature of art therapy makes it endlessly adaptable and capable of assisting any young person – even an intransigent and defensive adolescent – achieve a greater personal understanding and a greater self-expressiveness.

Art therapy, is the placing of the soul upon canvas – and that it makes it a vital component in any effort to help the psychologically distressed. Works Cited Dunn-Snow, Peggy (1994, November). “Adapting the Silver “Draw-A-Story” Technique: Art Therapy Techniques with Children and Adolescents”. American Journal of Art Therapy 33(2), 35-36. Miller, Robert. (April 4, 1999). “Art Therapists Help Patients Paint Bright New Vistas”. Retrieved 9 February, 2005 from American Art Therapy Association: http://www. rttherapy. org/art_therapy_in_the_news. htm Rogers, Natalie. “Natalie Rogers – Interview”. Retrieved 9 February, 2005 from Natalie Rogers Official Website: http://www. nrogers. com/interview. html Wallace, Jo, Wallace, Jo; Yorgin, Peter D. ; Carolan, Richard; et. al. (February, 2004). “The use of art therapy to detect depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in pediatric and young adult renal transplant recipients”. Pediatric Transplantation 8(1), 52-59.