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On Working with Teenagers and Families

When I tell people I’m an art therapist, I usually get the question, “So you work with kids?” Sure, I have worked with “kids” (preschool to tweens), but over the past several years I have grown to have a propensity for teens and families. This population is a far cry from who I originally thought I was going to be working with (Senior Citizens) when I first set out on my path to becoming an art therapist and counselor. But working with teens and their families, both in outpatient settings and then in inpatient settings, really allowed me to see how this population is misunderstood. These teens and families are real fighters and through the many obstacles they have encountered, I am always taken aback by their strength to pick themselves up and to keep going!

Teens are so often labeled by adults. But these adolescents also label themselves; often to fit in and sometimes just so they can survive. I think it’s easy to say, “Oh, it’s too late for him/her” or “they’ll just end up in jail...the system can deal with them now”. But every teen and every family I have ever worked with has had a story to tell. A story of strength, heartbreak, trauma, love, hard work, loss...I could go on and on. I have been witness to teens and their families tell and work through their stories through the application of art therapy because for the first time someone is willing to be witness to their story without judgement.

So many times there are generational stories that repeat themselves over and over. A large part of my work with teens and their families is to have them tell their stories. This allows the family and the teen to begin to unload the burden they have been holding onto. The family stories also teach, so that the next generation can begin to recognize and break out of negative cycles.

Storytelling through the use of art therapy, allows the family and teen to have a safe place to use and manipulate art media so that they can express feelings and experiences that oftentimes do not have words. Every teen and family is different, so every media that I choose for the story to be told in (i.e., paint, collage, photography, clay, etc.) is chosen for a reason to help support the teens and families therapeutically. It IS possible for teens and families to break through the generational pain and begin a new story of hope, health, and promise!