Art Therapy for the Anxious Adolescent

“Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented – which is what fear and anxiety do to a person – into something whole.”

– Louise Bourgeois

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. However, anxiety can become overwhelming to the point of it being problematic. Pre-teens and teens are faced with many challenges in adolescence including changing schools, increased pressure around academic performance, and social and physical changes.

According to a 2017 report on children’s mental health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in children and adolescents. Nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18. Anxiety takes on many forms and may show up differently in individuals.

What anxiety may look like in adolescents:

  • excessive worry or fears
  • feelings of inner restlessness
  • high levels of stress
  • irritability
  • poor school performance
  • physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches or fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • isolation from social interactions
  • mood changes

Art therapy can help adolescents learn more about their anxiety and how to cope. Benefits of Art Therapy for adolescents include:

  • Non-Verbal Communication – Art Therapy promotes nonverbal communication of thoughts, feelings and unconscious images and symbols.
  • Safe Expression of Internal Conflict – Art therapy acts as a mirror of one’s internal state, providing an external representation and a physical record of one’s experience. Artwork can create a safe container to hold the client’s feelings while processing.
  • Fosters Self Awareness – Art therapy promotes creativity, self-discovery, insight, problem solving, and conflict resolution.

Increased Emotional and Sensory Intelligence – Art therapy challenges distress tolerance and impulse control. It builds emotional and sensory intelligence and promotes relaxation and sensory integration.

“The fact that we can recall adolescence better than other periods and that this is a time of change in many brain regions are two pieces of evidence that the brain is likely to be especially plastic at this time. Another indication comes from statistics on the average age of onset of serious psychological disorders. The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to stress.” – Laurence Steinberg

What is an Art Therapist?

Art therapists are trained in both art and therapy. The process isn’t an art lesson – it is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories and counseling techniques. Art therapists are trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. It is through this process that the individual really begins to see the effects of art therapy and the discoveries that can be made.

“Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”   – American Art Therapy Association

Article by Katie Thies, LAC, Art Therapist

Katie Thies is a Licensed Associate Counselor and Art Therapist specializing in work with art therapy for anxiety and trauma. Katie works with children, adolescents, and adults. Learn more about how Katie can help you or your family by calling PCS at 480-947-5739 to schedule an initial consultation.