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Expressive Arts Therapy for Teens

Expressive arts therapy can be a very helpful tool in coping with many different types of behavioral issues and mental health problems.

teens using expressive art treatmentCreativity is a common coping mechanism used by adults, but it is often forgotten how powerful it can be in helping children and teenagers as well. Teens are used to working in groups. They learn in large groups in school, and tend to be social and hang out in groups as well. Because of this, group therapy, and specifically group arts therapy, can be an effective way to help teenagers with depression, anxiety, and a multitude of other issues.

Teenagers often end up in therapy because of problems in their interpersonal relationships such as those with their parents, teachers, other figures of authority, and peers. They learn by watching those around them interacting with each other. Important social skills such as anger management and cooperation can be picked up easily within a group therapy session. Unlike adults however, “talk therapy” often isn’t enough to help troubled teens. They need more innovative ways to express themselves. This is where arts therapy comes in. Arts therapy is available in individual sessions, but you may consider group arts therapy as a less expensive and often more effective option.

Expressive Arts Therapy Can Benefit Those Who Are Dealing With:

  • Addictions
  • Grief and Loss
  • Depression’
  • Anxiety
  • Attention disorders
  • PTSD
  • Sleeping issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Relationship issues
  • Phobias
  • Trauma
  • Physical illness

Adults are not the only ones who deal with the above issues. Children and teens are commonly plagued with them too. Therefore, arts therapy should be considered for those of all ages.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive arts therapy is best defined as the application of any type of visual art in a therapeutic context. It doesn’t matter what media is used, and it can be something the teen can even do easily at home such as journaling, sketching, or painting. What matters most is that the teen feels comfortable with the media(s) that they choose. Writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, sewing, knitting, photography, and many other medias can be forms of arts therapy.

Types of Expressive Arts Therapy:

  • Creative writing therapy such as journaling, writing poetry, narrative fiction, letter writing to either to a real person in your life or to an inanimate/intangible thing you’re struggling with, writing your life story. Creative writing is a wonderful way to get emotions out that are difficult to talk about.
  • Visual art therapy such as painting, sculpting, drawing, sewing, etc. Creating something with your own two hands can help you to feel accomplished and give you a strengthened sense of self-esteem. You can also attempt to draw or paint your very emotions which can be a calming and soothing exercise which will help connect you to yourself.
  • Music therapy such as lyric/music writing, drum circles, analyzing meaning in existing music, learning a new instrument. Music is a language all its own. Sometimes just listening to the right music at the right time can help elevate your mood. Creating it yourself can help you to tell your story in a way you might not otherwise feel able to.
  • Drama therapysuch as role-playing, setting intentions and goals, telling your story through acting or writing a scene, family sculpting (the visual representation of an individual’s present family situation as they experience it). All of these things can be therapeutic forms of expression and are ways to tell your own personal story.

How Does Expressive Arts Therapy Work?

Expressive arts therapy is effective because creating art can help awaken thoughts and feelings that have been buried in a troubled person’s subconscious. Acknowledging and recognizing emotions is the first step in beginning to deal with them. Once the emotions are acknowledged, they can be expressed. Some emotions are difficult to convey with words or conversations in therapy and are more easily expressed through art. The largest benefit of arts therapy is that it gives adults and teens alike a safe and healthy outlet to express all of those new emotions. It can also greatly improve self-esteem, as it can make teens feel so accomplished just to have created something with their own hands.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769.


  • American Art Therapy Association
  • Art Therapy Alliance
  • Creativity and Recovery: The Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy by Guest Author. July 10, 2018.
  • American Counseling Association
  • Reaching The Tough Adolescent Through Expressive Arts Therapy Groups by Poppy K. Moon. August 12, 2006.

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