Art Therapy at Excelsior

Excelsior’s young artists will be exhibiting their finest creations at our upcoming Art Show – “Art is Life”. Please join us on Wednesday, August 19th at Kanon Collective Art Gallery for a cultured cocktail party, complete with wine and cheese pairings, live entertainment and stunning artwork created by Excelsior’s youth.

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Excelsior employs a wide variety of therapeutic techniques and programs to support our youth as they overcome difficult pasts. In addition to traditional “talk” therapies, Excelsior has found alternatives such as animal-assisted therapy, music therapy and art therapy to be incredibly beneficial for our youth. Art therapy, specifically, is used by many of our therapists as a tool to help their clients express their emotions in a nonverbal form. This creative expression helps them externalize their inner worlds when they struggle to find the words to do so.

“Art has helped me be able to express my feelings…Art has helped me believe in myself. Art is very helpful and has opened my eyes to a whole new world I’ve never imagined.” – Excelsior student

Art Therapy

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others to cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art” (Source) .

In other words, art therapy is a mental Two Facedhealth profession that uses the creative process of making art (i.e. painting, drawing, sculpting) to improve and enhance mental and emotional well-being. It is based on the belief that engaging in creative activities helps people resolve conflicts, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress and increase self-esteem.

Engaging in the creative process helps people explore their feelings in a safe, nonthreatening environment. Art therapists never judge nor do they try to control the process of the artwork – they encourage artistic freedom. Art therapists simply choose the materials and techniques appropriate for their clients’ needs, then invite the creative process to begin. The therapist never critiques the work, nor does he/she try to interpret it. When a piece of art is completed, the therapist invites a dialogue about what the piece means to the client, allowing the client to guide the conversation.

The ultimate goal of art therapy is to restore a person’s ability to function effectively and enhance their sense of personal well-being. Art therapy has been shown to help individuals of all ages explore their feelings, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. Additionally, art therapy has been especially successful in helping people work through traumatic experiences, as is the case with many of our girls.

Benefits of Art Therapy for Adolescents

Adolescents often struggle to express their emotions in an appropriate or positive way, which causes them to bottle up their feelings usually resulting in an angry outburst or other unhealthy behavior.  Sometimes the primary problem is that they don’t truly understand how they feel – they may be able to identify that they are happy, sad or angry, but most adolescents struggle to identify the more deep-seated emotions, like loneliness, regret, hurt or hopefulness.

This inability to fully understand their emotions, coupled with their Griffin by Handreluctance to talk to adults, makes art therapy an incredibly effective therapeutic intervention for adolescents. Teens welcome the chance to draw or create what their feeling, rather than struggling through the process of finding the right words to describe their emotions.

In general, “art therapy helps people resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills, manage problematic behaviors, reduce negative stress, and achieve personal insight” (Source). For adolescents, specific benefits make this therapy especially effective.

  • Externalization of internal stress: When adolescents are able to depict a stressor through imagery, they externalize it making it easier for them to analyze the situation.
  • Nonthreatening form of communication: Art offers a safe outlet for teens to express themselves without fear of being judged. “Therapy” is an inherently threatening concept, but painting, drawing and creating don’t seem like therapy.
  • Art develops individuality: Art gives teens an outlet to be completely and freely themselves. Through art, they create a sense of identity and individuality.
  • Creative problem-solving: Art therapy shows adolescents that creativity can be used to solve problems and expose new, unique solutions.
  • Metaphorical Imagery: Art often produces metaphorical imagery that provides an intimate, honest perspective of the situation or issue.

“Art has been a huge coping skill. It helps me get my emotions out and show how I really feel about things. I don’t have to speak”. – Excelsior Student