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Art Therapy in Schools


Art Therapy Definition:

Art therapy uses the creative process involved in making art to increase self-awareness, cope with symptoms, relieve stress and traumatic experiences, and enhance cognitive abilities. Art Therapy is used to treat depression, anxiety, anger, and aggression, substance abuse, oppositional tendencies, post-traumatic stress, attention deficit and hyperactivity, self-injurious behaviors, and physical and cognitive delays.

Benefits of Art Therapy Within an Alternative School Setting:

Most students in an alternative setting have not been successful in more traditional school settings. Many have had difficulty with relationships with peers and adults and have not learned healthy social skills. As a result they may see adults as a threat and use oppositional behaviors when engaging with adults. Many alternative students are kinetic learners and integrate information more readily while participating in an activity that reinforces the information presented. With this population, the use of art therapy reduces the initial resistance encountered in traditional verbal therapy.

Issues of anger and aggression can be diffused through the use of appropriate art materials. Students prone to self-injurious behaviors can use the art materials as a means of exploring control issues. The act of discharging feelings in a safe manner can help students find alternative means of expressing their emotions, rather than acting out by hurting themselves, or others.

Depressed students often communicate their feeling more effectively through the use of art. Often this leads to the student verbally identifying feelings they were unable express in the past, and identify healthier coping skills.

Students with poor impulse control benefit from the use of art materials. Many of these students are kinetic learners. Talking about their choices and consequences may not connect with these students. They may hear the outcome of their behaviors, however, some are unable to fully process and integrate this information. Using the art materials they are able to identify choices and the outcomes of their choices; this information is often relatable to experience they are having in the classroom or at home.

Students abusing substances to mask their feelings can use art to effectively explore their unhealthy means of coping and how their choices impact their lives (academically and socially). These students are often in denial of the influences substances have on their lives and have not learned other means of coping with their feelings. In the artwork they may express their attachment to substances, with the development of a trusting relationship they are able to identify other means of meeting their needs. The art images change from being centered on substances to a healthy identification of self and relationships with others.

Students with cognitive disabilities benefit from the use of art to help enhance decision-making skills and mastery of the materials. During the progression of the art sessions it becomes evident through the artwork that the student is developing cognitively. This is often reflected in the art as the work becomes more developmentally advanced through the use of form and schematic development. Individuals with physical disabilities also benefit from the use of fine and gross motor skills during the art making process.

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