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Benefits of Art or Play Therapy for Kids and Teens

Throughout history, art has been used by humans to tell stories, express ourselves, and communicate with one another. From cave paintings to modern art, drawing pictures is one of the most natural forms of expression for humans, even when language has not been available to us. It is a unique communication tool that has played an essential role in our lives from the times of some of the earliest humans and continues today to be a highly regarded form of self-expression and storytelling.

Understanding Art Therapy

Art Therapy harnesses people’s natural instinct to be creative, to help improve mental and emotional well-being. Unlike traditional art classes, the focus of art therapy is not on technical skills, but instead on self-expression through whatever medium and imagery feels right to them. It helps us go beyond our logical, rational brain, and connect to a deeper side of ourselves than we may even realize on our own. The Art Therapist is there to help you recognize these deeper meanings and explore where they come from, how they affect you, and ways to work through them.  

How Art Therapy Works

In Art Therapy sessions, clients first express their struggles through drawing, painting, or collaging. Thinking about what they feel as they create helps release pent-up emotions while allowing their innermost thoughts and feelings to flow freely onto the page. The Art Therapist then helps them explore their image, asking questions to help them make meaning out of what was created and recognize what they were feeling during the creative process. This process allows one to step back and see their problems from a different perspective, get a deeper understanding of what is causing the pain, and find resolutions.

Why Art Therapy Works for Kids and Teens

Art Therapy has been used in professional practice since the 1940s and has continued to grow in popularity. Today Art Therapy is very commonly used for children and teenagers because it doesn’t rely on the child having the ‘right words’ to express a feeling, and because it is a more interactive, hands-on experience, that keeps kids more engaged than in traditional talk-therapy. It provides a creative outlet to express through images what they often cannot express in words, and allows them the opportunity to start making sense of their internal world. As kids and teens start to better understand their emotions, they become better equipped to navigate the challenges of everyday life. They learn how to recognize their emotions and communicate them in a healthier way.

What is Play Therapy

Similar to Art Therapy, Play Therapy utilizes creative play as a therapeutic tool for self-expression. Play is a natural mode of expression for children, so within a supportive environment, kids are encouraged to use their imaginations to play out emotions and stories. In a typical Play Therapy office you’ll find a sand tray with figurines, toys, puppets, and games. The therapist will follow the child in their creative world, noticing themes, asking questions, reflecting and validating feelings, and teaching coping skills as needed.

child plays with blocks while play therapist interacts with her

How Art or Play Therapy Can Benefit Your Child

If you find your child or teen struggles to communicate their emotions or expresses them through challenging behaviours, Art or Play Therapy can help offer a gentle approach to support their well-being. When kids and teens struggle emotionally, they often ‘show’ their feelings through behaviours. Some will start acting out, while others will begin to shut down and withdraw. Art and Play Therapy offers a safe, supportive environment to make sense of their feelings.

Both Art and Play Therapy help bring to the ‘outside’ what is happening on the ‘inside’. They are therapeutic approaches that help them to express, understand, and process their feelings while showing them they don’t have to feel alone with them. Both have been used to help decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and trauma. By tapping into the power of creativity, we can help kids and teens heal from past wounds while teaching them tools to help them thrive in their futures.

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Nicole Gfeller

Nicole is a child, teen and family therapist who specializes in Art and Play Therapies. She works to help empower parents and heal family relationships by creating an environment where everyone feels understood, heard, and cared for. Nicole is dedicated to helping your child or teen develop crucial emotional management skills and enhance their communication abilities. What you may not know about Nicole is that she is tri-lingual, speaking English, French and Spanish!

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Searchlight Counselling provides in-person and virtual therapy for individuals and couples in Burnaby, Vancouver, and across British Columbia. Specializing in BIPOC & 2SLGBTQIA+.