Therapy for Teenagers
I offer art therapy for teenagers in English in Bologna. Individual sessions are normally one hour long and are held on a weekly basis.
I offer an introductory package that includes: a preliminary meeting with the parents (and teenager if appropriate); four one-hour sessions with the teenager; a follow up meeting with the parents (and teenager if appropriate) for feedback.
Adolescence is a difficult period, full of challenges for the teenager who is experiencing it and for those around them. It acts as a second birth through the metamorphic transformation of the body. But this time, the teenager cannot rely on their parents to facilitate the journey precisely because its ultimate goal is for them themselves to become an adult. It is a passage that requires rebellion against almost everything: the world of childhood, the adult world, parental rules. The teenager finds their allies almost exclusively in their friends and peers who like them are facing the same struggle to declare their existence and their values. All this is for the achievement of one's identity as a person and individual, the new young adult.
Why art therapy?
Art therapy can be well accepted by teenagers precisely because it is a means of communication which allows the teenager to find their own creative form of self-expression. It is through creativity that historically and socially the adolescent has been allowed to rebel and express their malaise. The rancorous graffiti on the wall opposite school. The pierced heart drawn on the backpack. The techno music at full volume coming out of the bedroom. The art therapist can give value to these expressions and help the teenager grasp the deeper meaning of what they are expressing. She can help them channel their destructive urges into the art materials, cutting and sculpting until they find a shape for their rage at the adult world that has so disillusioned them with its imperfections. In this way, the teenager discovers the intrinsic creativity in every gesture of destruction: the cut that becomes a form (Fontana), the momentum that becomes a sign (Pollock).
My work with teenagers aims at boosting their self-esteem and confirming their self-worth so that they can find their own answers. Some possible benefits of art therapy for teenagers:
clarity in their relationships with friends and family
feeling more positive about their appearance
feeling more creative and joyful
feeling more confident about who they are and what they want from life
better able to make positive life choices
better able to assess risks and avoid dangerous situations
Art Therapy in English for Third Culture Kids
As a British and Irish Citizen who has lived in Italy since the age of 20, I am especially sensitive to issues concerning multi-cultural and multi-national identity. A deep understanding of our own identity is fundamental to an individual's personal sense of security, integrity, self-esteem and self-confidence. It affects how we see ourselves, how we think others see us and therefore our ability to represent ourselves, to ask for things, to stand up for ourselves and the right to say 'no'. I have particular experience working with Third Culture Kids and easing transitions, whether your child has recently arrived in Italy, or is about to move to another country.
For Teenagers :
Why should I go to Art Therapy?
Art therapy can help if you:
feel down and no one seems to understand you? Do you ever wonder what being 'normal' means?
feel like you have no one to talk to? Are there things you're too scared even to tell your friends?
find it hard making friends – or have you experienced high school bullying?
feel betrayed by friends and people close to you?
sometimes hate yourself and punish yourself by cutting or not eating?
have questions about sex or sexuality that no-one seems to have the answer to?
feel guilty about not getting good enough grades at school?
feel you're not the person your mum or dad wanted you to be?
The benefits of art therapy:
You can share whatever is on your mind without worrying about being judged, criticized or rejected. The relationship you have with a therapist is a special one in which you can explore difficult issues and know that your secrets are safe. An art therapist will help you sort through your feelings, experiences and questions. Anything that you don't feel able to express in words, can be expressed through the art materials. A therapist's aim is to help you become more comfortable with your feelings and more confident in expressing them. You can gain a better understanding of how your emotions affect your actions and how your actions interweave with the external world to create the situation you are living. A therapist should always be non-judgmental and supportive. They will guide your therapy but they will never tell you what to do.
For Parents :
Common Teenage Problems:
Art Therapy for Depression
Has your teenager expressed feelings of worthlessness, self-blame or self-criticism? Do they seem bored by activities and events that they once enjoyed? Do they have drastic mood fluctuations? Are they withdrawing from friends and family? Is the answer to everything “what’s the point?” or “why bother?” ? Do you wish you could better understand what they're going through so you could provide them with the support and guidance they need? Watching your child suffer from depression can be a confusing and frightening experience, overshadowed by a sense of helplessness. Every day may feel like a struggle and your attempts to reach out to your child may be met with withdrawal or even hostility.
Teenage depression is much more common than you might think. Teenagers are notoriously moody and it can be challenging as a parent to determine if your teenager's depression is just teenage angst. Mood swings and acting out are to be expected from teenagers. However, if your teenager’s emotional state has had you concerned for some time now, that in itself is an indicator. If they are withdrawing from friends and activities they once enjoyed, show little enthusiasm for anything, are self-harming, are using alcohol or other substances excessively, their school performance has suddenly gone down hill - these are all indicators that it could be time to seek professional help.
Art therapy offers a safe, supportive and compassionate environment, in which your teenager can begin to identify, explore and address the thoughts, feelings and issues that are fueling their depression. Your teenager can develop a greater awareness of who they are, along with a deeper understanding of their strengths and goals. A key part of treating teenage depression is helping your teenager assess their strengths realistically and set practical, achievable goals. Increased self-esteem and self-confidence are the keys for moving into adulthood with a positive and successful outlook.
Art Therapy for Anxiety
Is your teenager highly stressed, constantly irritable or unable to relax? Does your teen strive for perfection to the point where the pressure to succeed is counter-productive? Does your teen often complain of physical discomforts, such as headaches, stomachaches or a rapid heartbeat? Are your teenager’s illogical thought patterns negatively impacting their self-esteem or ability to maintain focus? Do you wish you had the insight and tools to help your child find relief from anxiety and learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways? Watching your teenager suffer from heightened stress and anxiety can be a frustrating and even frightening experience for parents, especially if the anxiety is severe and has begun manifesting itself through phobias or panic attacks.
Anxiety in teenagers is increasingly common. They are under an increasing amount of pressure to excel, whether in school, sports, music, relationships or other activities. Many teenagers attempt to juggle multiple extracurricular activities on top of their schoolwork. They get to bed late and are up early as they strive to get top grades, pushing their physical body to exhaustion. In a society where self-worth is measured by what you achieve and not by who you are, teenagers can easily feel like they are failures or lacking something fundamental.
The art therapy studio provides a safe place where your teenager can identify and address the deeper issues behind their anxiety. We can use the art objects they create to explore the emotions and beliefs that may be driving your teenager to over-value or over-personalize what’s happening within and around them. They can create artworks that represent themselves, their personal space, the things they are afraid of as part of a process of learning boundaries, keeping negative thoughts outside and trusting and believing in their own self-worth. Art therapy can help your teenager set realistic goals and expectations for their performance in school, sports and other extracurricular activities. I will work with your teenager to help them understand their specific personality, strengths, weaknesses and needs and value themselves for these.
Art Therapy for Self-Harm
Have you just found out that your teenager is engaging in self-harming behaviour? Are you having difficulty understanding this behaviour – where it came from, what it means and why your child would want to do those things to themselves? Learning that your child is deliberately self-harming can be a shocking, confusing and deeply concerning experience. Many parents are immediately concerned that their teenager is suicidal but this is not generally the case. To understand self-harm properly, it needs to be seen as a coping mechanism. In fact, teenagers use it as a way to relieve themselves of anxiety, depression and/or self-hatred.
Teenagers that self-harm may appear to be happy, and some are perfectionists and high-achievers, and so the discovery can be surprising and shocking for the parent. Yet it’s becoming far more prevalent in the teenage community and is happening much more than you might think. It’s being used as a coping mechanism by a wide-range of teenagers in a variety of ways. As pain releases endorphins, the action provides an outlet for stress and anxiety. Today’s school life, social media and global society put teenagers under enormous pressure. They are living in environments of constant competition where self-worth is defined not by who you are, but by what you achieve.
Self-harming teenagers need therapy, especially if the pattern of behavior has become chronic, because this kind of behaviour is normally the sign of a bigger problem. I will work with your teenager to identify and explore the issues behind their self-harm and develop healthier strategies to cope with stress. I will support your teenager's development of a more comprehensive view of how they affect and are affected by others. I will work with your teenager to help them gain self-worth from who they are, and as they accept themselves, it will be easier for them to accept others, create balance in their lives, and develop healthy ways to cope with pressure. It is possible for your child to stop self-harming and learn to make skillful and effective choices.
Art Therapy for Eating Disorders
Is your teenager skipping meals, eating voraciously or making secret trips to the bathroom to be sick? Does your teen get angry whenever you try to talk to them about their eating habits? Does their personality seem to have changed completely? An eating disorder can be a difficult burden for a family to manage, especially when your teenager refuses to talk about it or admit that anything is up.
Eating disorders in teenagers is a common phenomenon to the extent that it's becoming a diffuse social problem. With social media like Youtube, social networks like facebook and instagram, the selfie phenomena and the rise of 'influencers' like Ariel Martin and Cameron Dallas, teenage appearances and looks have never been so much in the spotlight. Self-worth can now be measured like never before by your body's appearance, and in a society where teenagers easily feel like failures because whatever they achieve never lasts for long - good grades one year don't guarantee good grades the following year - controlling their body and thus their value gives a teenager a sense of just that: control. It's a ray of hope in a daunting world that's spinning out of their control. And that's why your teenager can refuse to admit there's a problem: because for them, it's not a problem but a solution, a coping mechanism.
However, it's important that an eating disorder is addressed and the sooner the better, because the longer they persist, the harder they can be to eliminate. Consulting the family doctor is an essential first step and it's important to protect your teenager's long-term health. If you feel it to be an appropriate alternative therapy for your teenager, the art therapy studio can provide a safe place where your teenager can identify and address the deeper issues behind their eating disorder. Precisely because many teenagers with eating disorders do not accept they have a problem, art therapy can be a useful tool that allows them to work through their needs indirectly. In art therapy, it is the creative process that triggers change, so we don't necessarily have to discuss the eating disorder directly for the sessions to be useful. Your teenager can create artworks that represent their dreams and ideals, their hopes and aspirations, their fears and losses, their role models and goals. When they are ready, we can also work on self-representations, examining how they see their own body and the emotions it triggers. I will work with your teenager to help them understand their special value and love themselves once again.
I feel my teenager needs therapy, but they refuse.
Sometimes it's necessary to communicate to your child that they need therapy and that this is non-negotiable. From there, you can create compromise and involve your teenager in the process. It could be a good idea to contact moe than one therapist, and/or have your teenager research different types of expressive therapy (there is dance movement therapy and music therapy as well as art therapy) so that they become empowered and can be the one to choose which therapist to see. You can also let your teenager know that the therapist is on their side and that you will respect the therapeutic relationship and its confidentiality (unless there is a risk of suicide, abuse or harm to others).
My teenager could benefit from therapy, but I’m concerned about cost and time.
Therapy for children can be a form of investment. Whether its depression, self-harm, an eating disorder or anxiety, these are all signs that there are underlying emotional problems and/or too much stress. Problems that go unheeded can be become chronic, and the longer they are ignored, the harder it is to put them right. Therapy can provide your child with a greater understanding of how he or she relates to and is affected by the world. Developing this understanding and learning healthy and effective ways to cope as a teenager can be an invaluable resource that will serve them well in their adult life.
Precisely because the adolescent is in rebellion against the adult world and finds his allies in someone like themselves who is experiencing the same struggle, group therapy can be useful for this age group. Exploring their dilemmas with their peers and finding the courage to confess their fears in front of others, only to discover that they are not the only ones and that their courage has made them the hero of the hour. In this way, group therapy can increase both self-esteem and trust, encouraging a more optimistic view of life that can therefore reduce self-destructive behaviour.
If you work with teenagers and are interested in creating a group for teenagers at your school or instiution, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Research into Art Therapy for Teenagers
Much less has been written about the work of Art Therapy with adolescents compared to that with children. The most important contribution has probably been made by Shirley Riley with her book 'Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents', while in Italy the 'Portrait of the young artist: art therapy and dance movement therapy with adolescents' was published by Lefebvre and Weatherhogg. In an article published in the Western Journal of Medicine (2001), Riley summarizes the following key points:
* distressed adolescents tend to be little interested in seeking help from adults;
* art therapy offers a non-threatening way for teens to express their inner feelings;
* teens can do "acting out" as a cover for their depression; art therapy is useful in the assessment and treatment of such depression;
* art therapy can offer a support system for adolescents living with abuse, depression, lack of self-control or sudden social or academic failures.
The entire article is available in English at this link.