Expressive Art Therapy for Kids and Teens

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Hi, I’m Jennifer Bishop, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Boca Raton, Florida. I specialize in working with children ages 3 to 18 and their parents.

Why Expressive Art Therapy?

The term expressive art refers to any combination of dance, writing, visual arts, drama, music or other creative outlets. Expressive art therapy is taking these modalities and using them to enhance individual development and growth. Combined with a healthy therapeutic relationship and consistencyexpressive art therapy can improve overall well-being and contribute to lowering anxiety and stress, improving self-awareness and self-esteem, strengthening relationships, regulating behaviors and advancing social skills.

There are so many benefits of using Expressive Art Therapy with children and teens. Here are some of the highlights:

Helping Children & Teens Deal With Trauma & Negative Situations

They are able to release and express feelings they may not know how to let go of otherwise. Additionally, express art therapy positively affect function mood, cognition and behavior. This is particularly helpful in children/teens with social concerns, PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, depression or other mental and behavioral health conditions. Expression through art is a way to help them feel a sense of normalcy without judgment while allowing them to show their individual personality and bring attention to their strengths.

Children and teens may not have the insight and awareness to verbalize and express themselves, but they still have a voice. Expressive art therapy awaken a child’s imagination and creativity to help them discover who they are and how to engage in their senses. This also brings a sense of calm to their body and positively impacts their mindset, interpretation of their surroundings and emotional state. For example, putting their feelings into a poem, song or painting gives a child a safe outlet for negative emotions through an enjoyable activity, which accelerates the healing and growth process.

Social Skills

Not only is expressive art therapy good for healing, they also support strong social skills. Establishing social skills at a young age is incredibly important for regular development. Children who are comfortable in social settings operate much better as adults, as they establish connection, communication and empathy. Expressive art therapy can enhance social development by providing support without judgment from peers, parents and therapist. This gives children the opportunity to appreciate differences between people and accept each individual’s perceptions, encouraging relationships and trust.

Developing Feelings

In addition to being an emotional outlet, expressive art therapy can actually help children and teens to better understand and develop their feelings. Being angry or hurt is not always easy to describe in words, but a child can put these emotions into a drawing, poem or dance and make it easy for themselves and others to comprehend. It also creates a starting point for conversation, which can lead to more open expression of feelings and thoughts. This also creates an opening for the therapist to create insight and awareness to feelings and emotions for the child/teen. Involvement in art activities also allows kids to grow confidence. It is a way to open up dialogue about situations that may be hard to deal with or share. Getting their emotions out in a creative way can be both therapeutic and insightful.

Assisting With The Healing Process

To be a little more scientific, expressive art therapy can assist in the healing process by altering a child’s physiology. When a child or teen engages in expressive arts, it alerts the parasympathetic system in their brain. Their breathing slows, their blood pressure lowers, and the body becomes more relaxed. This helps reduce the physiological hyper-arousal, or fight-or-flight response, associated with stress. Creative expression modifies our biochemistry and improves out physical well-being. When children/teens participate in expressive art therapy, it actually changes their bodies.

The creative process causes specific areas of the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters that affect brain cells and the cells of the immune system, relieving pain and triggering the immune system to function more efficiently. Endorphins are like opiates, creating an experience of expansion, connection, and relaxation. In conjunction with these physiologic changes, art can regularly change people’s attitudes, emotional states, and perception of pain.

Impact of Expressive Art Therapy

In the course of my work over the past 16 years, I have seen first hand the tremendous benefits and healing that take place when children and teens are allowed the process and consistency of expressive arts therapy.

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