When issues start getting in the way

When young people are struggling it can often feel overwhelming – not just for them, but for everyone who loves them. Issues can quickly become larger than life when they start to impact school, relationships, health or family routines. Sometimes the causes behind the issues lie hidden, but are nevertheless very influential. My work with children and youth typically addresses the deeper experiences, thoughts and feelings that may be contributing to current challenges as well as offering concrete tools for coping and managing in the present. Understandably, many youth want specific ways to cope right now, particularly if they are struggling with anxiety, school avoidance, conflicts at home, or other disruptive issues. On the other hand, some individuals attend sessions at their parent's urging, but see their behaviour as no big deal.

Art therapy can help

Art therapy can help in both these situations. It is a gentle but very effective instrument for exploring, unearthing and expressing thoughts and feelings and it blossoms as a therapeutic tool when choice and acceptance are authentically offered. This approach is particularly crucial in supporting children and youth. To recognize the autonomy and perspective of each client – from the teen who sees her parent's concern as interference to the young adult who is eager for help – is the essential starting place.

Offering therapy through the psychotherapeutic, humanistic lens, I work with each individual's unique perspective, distinct strengths and insights. Children and youth benefit greatly from an unbiased adult who demonstrates that they are paying attention, that they don't have a hidden agenda and that they will stick with them regardless of the path travelled. It naturally takes time for a client to feel comfortable in therapy. It may be hard for a parent to be patient, but with time, much can be accomplished.

Engaging in art therapy allows a client to give shape to chaos, reining in and reconfiguring issues that can feel overwhelming. This is a powerful tool at any age, but can be particularly effective for young people who are grappling with change internally (physically, emotionally) and perhaps also struggling to find their place in the ever shifting external world.

Physician and author Lawrence S. Neinstein states that there is a wide variability in biological and emotional growth amongst teens, and that they each respond to life's demands and opportunities in unique and personal ways (Neinstein, Adolescent Health Care). My practice is informed by that belief. And I have found that art therapy is a very elastic and accommodating therapeutic tool which has the flexibility to address the unique needs and perspectives of each client.