What is art therapy? And why and how is it used in adolescent groups?

Cultures throughout history have utilized art as a way to express and convey thoughts and values. Art has a fundamental place in the human experience of being a way that people communicate with each other.  Art facilitates one person expressing themselves while others also work to interpret and understand both the piece of art and the mind and heart of the artist.  Therefore, it’s not a stretch to believe in the power of art to assist in the therapeutic goals of both increasing self awareness and demonstrating the growing sense of self.

Art therapy is a form of therapy that integrates psychotherapeutic foundations with creative expression.  Therapists utilize a variety of techniques including painting, drawing, sculpting, mixed media (such as collaging), and the list goes on.  Often clients can express through art what they can’t say verbally, possibly revealing repressed feelings and thoughts that have been unconsciously stored or are too hard to put words (such as in the case of trauma).  

At Compass Rose Academy, art therapy is one of the many experiential therapeutic practices we employ. Art and creativity often bypass the defenses of adolescents which helps trusted therapists access underlying thoughts and feelings associated with depression, anxiety, trauma, power/control, grief, and many more of the complex presentations with which our students present. 

Collaborative art takes this a step further in the group therapy experience. Collaborations can help students work towards a healthy definition of self through ownership of their individual contribution while also celebrating the larger beauty of a collected art piece, which reflects the community of the group process.  Thus, assisting our students in celebrating both their growing sense of self and growing understanding of others. 

Collaborative compass created by CRA students


– By Stacey Ruberg, CRA Clinical Director, MA, NCC, LMHC