Art Therapy and Music Therapy Are Ways To Engage With Teens
*Eye roll, shrug, sigh* Working with teens in our therapy practice, including art therapy and music therapy, we’ve frequently heard the refrain that it can be hard to engage teens in treatment, but at Tribeca Therapy, we haven’t really had that experience. Our use of art and music therapy could be why.
Teens are often known as tough customers and reluctant therapy participants, but we think teens get a bad rap. Teens are looking for therapy where they feel heard–one might say that of all patients, but teens just happen to be more honest about their initial judgments about treatment. In our NYC therapy practice, we pride ourselves at being great at engaging teens and helping them see that we will help create an environment where they will be understood.
Part of what helps us form relationships with teens is that the individual therapist brings who they are and their specialness to the table to forge this connection. This connection between a therapist and teen is key and needs to happen first and foremost before we do the more heavy lifting. For some teens, the beginning stages of treatment might mean talking about their lives–what makes them tick, what brings them into treatment or who are the important people in their lives. But, for others, the work might start off with listening to a teen’s favorite music or sitting down and doing some drawing together.
Building A Therapeutic Relationship Between Therapist And Teen With Art Therapy and Music Therapy
Some of our staff therapists at Tribeca Therapy are art therapists or music therapists, who view the arts as an essential part of how they experience the world, and who, therefore, bring that into their therapeutic relationship. In fact, all of our therapists believe that the full human experience cannot be expressed and understood through words alone. And that is what we, as a practice, are interested in–understanding our patients fully and wholly, even in ways they cannot fully articulate. It is through art making that we are able to understand our patients holistically and therefore, are able to treat and help them holistically. Having another avenue to explore and communicate can deepen the therapeutic relationship and create the necessary foundation from which positive change can take place.
While everyone can benefit from working with an art or music therapist, we have found that teens especially gravitate toward a therapist who can incorporate the arts into therapy. Right off the bat, a therapist who is familiar with a teen’s favorite musical artist or who has some cool art on the wall will immediately feel more welcoming and relatable to a teen patient than the typical NYC therapist. The arts can also serve to break the ice–creating art or music can help even the most reticent teen feel more at ease and can help make therapy actually pleasurable.
Art Therapy and Music Therapy Can Also Act As An Additional Avenue For Teens To Express Their Thoughts And Feelings
In our therapy practice, we sometimes use art therapy and music therapy to take some of the pressure off of talking. Art making can act as an alternative or additional avenue for the patient to express what they are thinking or feeling. Talking about painful and traumatic subjects can be hard for people of all ages, but can be especially challenging to teens who are newer to expressing themselves in this way. The creative arts can be a way for a teen get painful stuff out there, so that they can experience some relief.
For example, what better way to contain painful feelings than to create an actual container. Working with clay, in itself, is a very gratifying experience and it requires the artist to put a lot of physical force into warming the clay and kneading it. This action of using the material can decrease tension as the teen may verbalize what pain they have been keeping inside. Both the therapist and the container the teen creates actually serve to hold the pain and can help the teen feel both seen and validated. Often the teen leaves the session feeling lighter, but also greatly supported by their therapist.
For some teens, making art or listening to music is in itself an incredibly powerful experience. Through the arts, teens can express uncomfortable feelings like sadness and anger and let go of these feelings as an act of catharsis. The art acts as an expression of raw emotion that helps them gain insight into the roots of their feelings, which we can then help teens better understand.
Adolescence Can Be An Isolating Time: Art Therapy and Music Therapy Can Be Empowering
Furthermore, there are many ways that art therapy and music therapy can positively impact and deepen the therapeutic work with teens specifically. Adolescence can be a particularly isolating time–many teens that we see in our teen therapy practice report feeling as if they are the only ones experiencing something painful as if others cannot.
For some teens, being able to have their own personal narrative be seen by the outside world is an empowering experience. Art, writing and music can be used to recreate experiences that the teen has had in order to express their perspective and have the therapist bear witness to what was painful or significant about the instance. This can be healing for the teen and also give them new insight into the impact of the experience to help them move on or grow from it.
Teens Can Also Take Therapy Home With Them In Its Creative Form With Art Therapy and Music Therapy
In art therapy and music therapy, there is also the upside of a physical object, whether a finished artwork, piece of writing or a song we have bonded over, that the teen can actually take with them as a representation of the work they’ve done in therapy. When they look at the art piece or listen to the song, it is a reminder of all the good stuff that we’re working on together.
By invoking the therapeutic relationship, even when we are not in the room together, the creation can lend strength to a teen at home when they are alone with their thoughts and feelings. It is in this way that a teen can learn to do “being alone” differently. If they are used to feeling sad or isolated when they are on their own or used to beating themselves up, the art, music or writing can help remind them about the good that we, as their therapists, see in them so that they can, then, learn to see that good in themselves.
How Much Art or Music Will Happen In Session With Teens?
Just like any decision we make in treatment as therapists, how much or how little art making takes place is always based on what is best for the patient. Whether we talk while using art materials, just focus on art making or solely talk, art therapy or music therapy with teens can look countless ways and as always, the unique needs of the patient always inform the work.