The adolescent years are challenging for most teens. These years can feel overwhelming or even unbearable for teens with mental health disorders. The creative arts have been effectively used for years now, dance therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and drama therapy are some examples of art therapies used as treatment.
One reason many teens struggle is that they do not feel as if they have a voice. They may feel like they are constantly being pushed aside or that what they think and feel doesn't matter.
It's critical for adolescents to have space to express themselves without fear of judgment or retribution. Participating in art and music therapy can benefit teens who struggle to express themselves in other ways. Teens may be able to express themselves in art therapy more than they do in traditional talk therapy.
What are Art and Music Therapy?
Art and music therapy are two therapy modalities that encourage participants to express themselves creatively using art and music. Participants can learn to express themselves through music, movement, and visual arts.
Art therapy allows participants to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions without saying a word. They can use different art mediums, such as drawing, painting, watercolors, or clay modeling.
Many teens with mental health challenges have experienced trauma in their young lives. This trauma may be difficult and painful to talk about, especially to a therapist they barely know. They may not even fully recognize the full scope of what has happened to them and their mental illness.
Using tools such as a paintbrush or pencil to express themselves, teens can work through their emotions without speaking out loud. This can help therapists better understand what the adolescent is working through inside. It can also help adolescents identify the issues and situations that are causing them pain and impacting their lives, leading to anxiety, stress, or depression.
Music therapy is similar to art therapy, except that it uses music for self-expression and discovery instead of art. In music therapy, participants will listen to uplifting music to get a dopamine boost.
Research has shown that listening to music triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine is known as the "feel-good chemical" in the brain. Thus, simply listening to upbeat music can help teens feel better. This is an essential part of a music therapy session.
Music therapy can also include creating music. It can consist of songwriting to allow teens to express themselves creatively. In some cases, music therapy can also involve playing an instrument as another tool for self-expression.
What to Expect During Art and Music Therapy
Art and music therapy has several benefits for adolescents struggling with mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma, behavioral disturbances, thought disorders, and more.
Some of the benefits of art and music therapy include:
The primary benefit of creative art therapy for adolescents is that it allows for creative self-expression. Teens typically don't like to conform to societal norms, which is why talk therapy often doesn't work for them. They are usually able to express their emotions through music and visual art.
By participating in art and music therapy, teens can have more control over how they express themselves. They can dig deep inside to uncover the root of their trauma, depression, or anxiety and be better able to face these challenges head-on.
Creating art and music can help teens feel more confident about themselves and their abilities. They will feel a sense of accomplishment for creating art, composing a song, or learning to play a musical instrument.
This confidence will seep into other aspects of their lives and help them feel more comfortable facing new situations.
Adolescents will become focused on their art and music as they creatively work through their emotions. This concentrated work can be therapy's crux and help their therapists and care workers identify ways to help them that may have otherwise remained hidden.
Research shows that many teens feel unmotivated to attend typical therapy sessions. This may be because they believe they are only for severe cases of mental disorders. On the other hand, they will be motivated to participate in art and music therapy because they enjoy it. This will lead to better outcomes because they are more likely to show up and engage in treatment.
Safe space for emotional processing
Because adolescents guide their art and music therapy, they naturally create a safe space for themselves. Creating a safe space helps them process their emotions and trauma. This means they will feel more comfortable expressing themselves and exploring the situations and circumstances that have led them to therapy in the first place.
Learn more about the benefits of music therapy here.
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How Does Art and Music Therapy Work?
The exact ways that art and music therapy work can vary from one person or facility to another. However, there are some commonalities among art and music therapists that help adolescents express themselves.
For example, with art therapy, the teen will likely be asked to make something that illustrates the challenges they are facing that have led to treatment. It could be molding a piece of clay, creating a collage, or drawing on paper. The art therapist's role is not to interpret the client's creation. Instead, the clients are encouraged to share what their creation means to them as much as they want.
By talking about a piece of art, the client becomes distanced from the problem. This can help the teen speak more freely about their situation with the therapist and allows for more open communication between the client and therapist.
In music therapy, clients may listen to or create music. This can depend on the client's previous experience with music and interest. For example, songwriting can help teens express their feelings from a distance.
However, not all teens want to write songs. In that case, analyzing the lyrics of songs that are already written can be more beneficial to helping teens identify with songs and talk about complex emotional topics. Music therapy can also involve listening to music to relax, especially for teens trying to manage anxiety or other disorders.
Learn more about art therapy ideas for teens here.
Art and Music Therapy with Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness
The Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness offers day treatment and intensive outpatient programs (IOP) for adolescents ages 13 - 17. We specifically support teens who are struggling with mental health disorders. Continue learning more about our therapies here.
The Art and Music Therapy program is offered at the outpatient center during the day. It can help adolescents work through their challenges in a safe space while expressing themselves creatively. Contact us to learn more about the art and music therapeutic modality and how it can help your teen.
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