Using Art in Therapy with Children and Adolescents

by Lauren Feiden, Psy. D.

Art therapy encourages self-expression, self-discovery and emotional growth; for these reasons, it has been used in the treatment of mental health issues for many years. As a form of psychotherapy, art therapy often involves both the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning. Individuals are encouraged to visualize, and then create, the thoughts and emotions that they cannot talk about (Brooke, 2006).

It is often difficult for children and adolescents to verbalize their problems or concerns. The resistance found in children and adolescents to direct discussion of their difficulties and feelings prompted child psychotherapists to seek additional ways to communicate (Schaefer & Cangelosi, 2002). Since children and adolescents are naturally more artistic and creative, art facilitates expression of their emotions and feelings without the use of words. Furthermore, adolescence can be sensitive time which can cause an adolescent to be more aware and concerned their image, especially among their peers. These adolescents often find it difficult to verbalize these feelings (Riley, 2001). “Art therapy can offer a support system to adolescents experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-concept and self-esteem, and academic difficulties. Art as a language of therapy, combined with verbal dialogue, uses all our capacities to find a more successful resolution to our difficulties” (Riley, 2001, p.54)”.  Using art in therapy can offer a nonthreatening way for teens and children to express their inner feelings (Riley, 2001).

Integrating art in therapy offers children and adolescents a more viable solution for communication than simply verbalizing their feelings. With the use of art, children and adolescents can help bring suppressed emotions to the surface (art therapy blog).

Benefits of using art in therapy:

  • Can be used as a means of nonverbal communication
  • Used for self-expression and self-exploration
  • Increases awareness of feelings
  • Can help release feelings
  • Facilitates emotional development
  • Non threatening therapeutic modality
  • Fosters creativity
  • In a group setting, everyone can engage in the activity, it can increase peer socialization and increases feelings of connectedness

Art in therapy can be useful for, but not limited to, the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief and loss
  • School and learning related issues
  • Social anxiety/shyness
  • Low Self-esteem and self-concept
  • Identity confusion/difficulties
  • Trauma
  • Stress


Brooke, S.L. (2006). Creative arts therapies manual. Charles C. Thomas, Il.

Liebmann, M. (2004). Art therapy for groups, 2nd Edition.  Brunner-Routledge, NY,

Riley, S. (2001). Art therapy with adolescents. Western Journal of Medicine, 175(1), 54-57.

Schaefer, C.E. & Cangelosi, D.M. (2002). Play therapy techniques, 2nd Edition. Jason Aronson Inc, NJ.