Solving Problems Creatively Part 2: Art Therapy with young people

Published on September 19, 2013

Art Therapy with young people 

In Solving Problems Creatively Part 1, I explored how the creative process can solve problems. In Part 2, I will illustrate how symbols, depicted in art therapy, can be metaphors to express feelings and difficult experiences.

Art Therapy in practice: Children and Adolescents

Art Therapy is the use of art materials in the presence of a trained art therapist. The process of Art Therapy enables one to explore emotions non-verbally. This can be useful for young people who have difficulty expressing how they feel.

Fig 1

In one example of how art therapy can help children to deal with difficult experiences. One young person used art making to express some of the chaos that they were feeling. Their parents were in the middle of a divorce. Art making provided a means to contain feelings that were difficult to talk about. In Fig 1 they found it useful to explore how “messy” they felt inside.

Attachment theory and Neuroscience research stress the importance, for children, of processing trauma.  Otherwise, these negative experiences can stifle brain development and can affect a persons ability to make relationships (Bowlby; 1979; Schore, 2003; Zulueta, 1993).  By using art a person can access these traumatic memories serving to heal damaged neural pathways in the brain (Canty, 2009).

The Benefits of making art in therapy

In therapy, healing takes place within the inter-subjective relationship between client and therapist. Thus a person can understand themselves better in relation to others (Skaife 2001). In art therapy the person has the bonus of using the artwork as well as the therapist. With people suffering from trauma a supportive art therapy approach can produce less defensive reactions than a verbal interpretative approach (Greenwood, 2008).

The Art Therapy Programme

Initially, there is a period of assessment where the person is encouraged to explore the art materials spontaneously, or with the help of a theme. The aim is to develop confidence and rapport with the therapist.

In Fig 2 one person has depicted an image of their relationships in their family. He illustrated his difficult relationship with his mother with the fragmented words to the right of the tree.

Sean drawing
Fig 2

Sean ball and chain
Fig 3


He had begun to understand that some of his struggles at school were him 'acting' out some of the problems at home. The next step was to engage with his family.

In Fig 3 the person was invited to make the symbol of a ‘ball and chain’ of what holds you back. This consisted of a collage that represented the person, and a screwed up piece of paper. Negative thoughts were written inside. This metaphor helped him focus on what is holding him back and what he has to improve.

The next young person was a girl who had lost their father through illness. She felt isolated at school and had difficulty making friends in her first year. This next picture shows this struggle. Where the person has depicted the symbol of an island. This metaphor expressed their feelings of isolation and sadness (Fig 4).

Fig 4

Fig 5


The student struggled to express how she felt. This changed when the student depicted an animal and fruit that related to their personality (Fig 5). She compared herself to a mouse and an icy fruit desert. The symbol of the mouse hiding was how she felt at school. While the metaphor of the ice melting was her need to open up.

Fig 6

Finally, In the next picture, the girl depicted a maze (Fig 6). She imagined, letting people into the maze and not letting them out. She related this picture to her feelings about relatives who had let her down and had not supported her. The symbol of the maze was a metaphor for her not getting too close to people.


We have seen how the creative process can help a person who feels stuck. Art Therapy can help people express emotions easier than in language. Through art therapy children can deal with emotional challenges such as divorce, grief and attachment issues.

Art Therapy uses creative art making to help both adults and children express what words cannot. Art making can create powerful symbols that can be metaphors to how a person feels.

Art Therapy can unlock and solve problems creatively.



Bowlby, J. (1999) Attachment. Attachment and Loss (vol. 1) (2nd Ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Canty, J. (2009) The key to being in the right mind, International Journal of Art Therapy: Formerly Inscape, 14:1, 11-16.

Greenwood, H.  (2011) Long term individual art psychotherapy. Art for art's sake: The effect of early relational trauma, International Journal of Art Therapy: Formerly Inscape, 16:1, 41-51.

Schore, Allan, N. (2003) Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the self. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company.

Skaife, S. (2001) Making visible: art therapy and inter-subjectivity, Inscape: Formerly Inscape, 6:2, 40-50.

De Zulueta, F. (1993) From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. London Press.

Category(s):Abuse / Abuse Survivor Issues, Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Attachment Issues, Bereavement, Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Divorce / Divorce Adjustment, Family Problems, Grief, Loss, Bereavement

Written by:

Andrew C Wright HCPC registered (UK)

Registered art psychotherapist trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2002. Has over 20 years of experience of working in the health care field.

Andrew is currently based in the UK and works with children, adults/ couples who have difficulties such as attachment, trauma, stress, anxiety and depression.

Andrew C Wright HCPC registered (UK) belongs to Art Therapy International Centre in Singapore

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