Looking for an educational online art course for teens and young adults dealing with mood and anxiety disorders that can help them manage their thoughts and emotions? Interested in learning how to use basic artistic exercises to increase mindfulness? Better understand your child, as they themselves gain a better understanding of themselves?
In this article, you’ll briefly learn a bit about my video-based art course entitled, Process & Processing, why I created it, and what kinds of results I’ve experienced with my patients using these methods.
It took years as a practicing psychiatrist and hundreds of patients (and their families) before I truly came to understand the path to psychological wellness is achieved when we strike a healthy balance between our thoughts and emotions.
Otherwise known as emotional intelligence, or social/emotional learning skills, according to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence,
“Children of all ages can be taught these skills — and that when they are, there are real benefits, such as more effective leadership skills, stronger friendships and connections to teachers, better conflict management skills, and greater academic achievement than children who do not receive the training.”(1)
I’ve experienced this first hand, and spent hundreds of hours watching families and children transform in response to my exercises.
What I’ve learned is the vast majority of emotional troubles we experience as adolescents, and adults, can be better managed when we learn to step back and look at them through new creative perspectives. This was something our ancestors grasped intuitively and practiced for countless millennia before the term ‘art therapy’ was arguably coined by Adrian Hill, and pioneers like Rita Simon exclaimed, “The creative process has the last word.”(2)
Can Art Therapy Reduce the Need for Medication?
In my professional opinion, an art course like the one my team and I have designed can be good supplement if an adolescent needs medication. Will it fix all their issues? No. Will art therapy replace medication entirely? Maybe. Basically adolescents break down into three categories:
- Because of a large number of variables, only medication can help.
- For some, a balanced approach of medication + art therapy is ideal.
- For others, medication isn’t needed and art therapy will have profound impacts.
Improve Emotional Intelligence
For skeptical parents (who tend to see medication as the only viable route), the question becomes, can emotional intelligence be measured in adolescents? Yes, by outcomes. For example, if an adolescent has a history of emergency room visits or low grades at school, by these being lessened or reversed we can measure the difference.
Art, or as myself and many of my colleagues like to call it to pay homage to Don Jones (one of the founders of art therapy), soul language, is an outlet.(3) It’s a way to communicate what can’t be well-spoken. It’s a footpath to healing, and putting our thoughts and emotions in order safely.
Now, often when I explain to parents that their teens and adolescents can improve emotional intelligence through the exercises in my Online Art Course, they want to know what kind of general outcomes to expect. It boils down to these three:
- Developing the skill to observe, express, and process our emotions with more clarity.
- Learning how to corral, or funnel emotions into better outcomes or activities.
- Discover our unique characteristics, goals, ideas, and attitudes in a safe therapeutic way.
Picture the young 14-year-old girl cutting her forearms in frustration after breaking up with a boyfriend who learns to express herself through art instead. Or, how about the vast population of children on ADHD meds trying to learn how to take in and process so much emotional stimulus. Art can be a safe non-medicational way to gain some control.
Example Exercise: Discovering Emotions Through Color
If I asked you to define sadness, how would you attempt to do that? It’s tough and gets really abstract in a hurry. Imagine an incredibly frustrated and overstressed 16 year old, or their 40 year old mother.
What if I asked you to express sadness through color? How about happiness and contentment? Sure, we all experience positive and negative emotions, but art and artistic expression provides safe ways to better define and differentiate between them.
- First, children learn to identify how colors influence their feelings.
- Then, to be able to step back and look at these emotions rather than being swept up.
- They learn it’s possible to express emotions through colors and discover personal stressors.
The goal of this exercise in my video-course is to help children and their parents learn to safely process emotions.
Note: Check out my blog 5 Things to Know About Expressing Emotions Through Colors!
Increase Performance & Focus in School
As social beings, how we relate to our different tribes and communities and where we fit into the world as we see it is one of the primary sources of stress/distraction. And, as we all know, the adolescent stage is so intense in this respect!
In fact, social anxiety and depression can to a degree be predicted based on peer relations, and it’s no different for adults. This is something that remains true, but is especially potent for young adults.
“Adolescence is a critical period in social development, marked by an expansion of peer networks, increased importance of close friendships, and the emergence of romantic relationships. As adolescents make the transition to middle school and then high school, peer networks increase, and peer crowd affiliation becomes an important aspect of peer relations.”(4)
What happens with schoolwork when teens find themselves in strained friendships or crowd affiliations? What happens when they experience (or take part in) peer victimization or get into a period of their lives with no positive romantic relationships?
We need an outlet. We need a way to take back control of ourselves, get back on the horse, focus and become more self-confident. Right? Art can be that outlet, and a route to putting priorities into perspective. Here’s some of the ways how:
- Increase our understanding of how emotions feel, or manifest, through our body
- Widen our sense of self-awareness and naturally boost self-esteem levels.
- Grow our ability to assert ourselves and enlarge our emotional vocabulary.
Example Exercise: A Tree
Upon the first cries we yell out as we’re brought into the world, we plant our roots. Over time we grow, mature, and sprout fresh branches with each new learning (positive & negative) experience. In this exercise…
- Children draw themselves as trees and discover more about what makes them tick.
- The discussion revolves around how everyone has uncertainties as we grow – goals and ambitions, friendships, values, loyalties, etc.
- Learn how to safely and rationally question ourselves without being negative.
The goal of this exercise in my online art course for teens with mood and anxiety disorders is to discover their unique characteristics and traits to boost self-awareness. This tends to lead to better overall performance in sports, school, social groups, and so forth.
When kids work on these exercises they learn how to separate themselves from distractions, stay on task, not get swept up and identify emotions (distractions). They get better at understanding what’s happening in the moment, plus with 24-hr access the exercises can be repeated. For parents, it can be an amazing template to build similar exercises to further explore the focus-boosting benefits.
Note: If you’re interested, check out my blog 5 Things to Know About Emotion.
Expand Stress Management Skills
Did you know that genius-level adolescents can really struggle at managing their stress?
Smartness and intelligence aren’t shields that protect from depression and social anxiety, in fact they can easily become sources (for example, because it causes them to feel like an outsider or outcast).
What I run into over and over again is that kids just aren’t being taught anything about stress or how to manage it. The most they get, from any source, is that, “stress is bad.” It’s not bad, it’s a tool. Art is just a very direct way to show this to people of all ages and in doing so they begin…
- Cultivating tools to help maintain an emotional balance during stressful situations.
- Utilizing positive and less stressful ways of thinking about our past, present, and future.
- Reinforcing positive coping skills to reduce ‘background’ stress levels.
What’s background stress? To put it simply, it’s stress that for most people is unavoidable because it’s hardwired into us. An easy example is when we’re around crowds of more than 5 to 10 people. The vast majority of human beings will experience a level of stress around crowds…but it can be managed once seen and understood.
Another, is when we think about our lives in relation to time, which again, is unavoidable.
Example Exercise: The 2-Sided Bridge
All 5 exercises in my online art course provide a coping skill through 5 different creative dimensions. This one helps adolescents address the present and the future to create their own personal version of their bridge through mindful painting.
- This bridge represents the space between current and future plans.
- Questions addressed include, “How can we successfully achieve future plans and how can we properly prepare for the future?”
The successful outcome of the bridge is that children begin to express how they see their future and gain tremendous insights into where their stress tends to come from, how to step back from it, and how to manage it in safer more productive ways.
Is This Online Art Course Right for You?
First and foremost, please be advised that my course isn’t a therapy session, but designed to be exploratory and educational. If you or your teen need serious help, please seek professional assistance. It can help though. It can’t hurt. And, for creative teens it can be an amazing way to spend QT with parents. The link below, takes you to the course page on Teachable – just sign up, pay the $59, and you’re in. Enjoy!
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1: (Source) “Teaching Teenagers to Develop Their Emotional Intelligence”, Marc Brackett, Diana Divecha, Robin Stern, Harvard Business Review, May 19, 2005.
2: (Source) “Healing Arts: The History of Art Therapy” Susan Hogan, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2001.
3: (Source) Don Jones (arts) Wikipedia Page.
4: (Source) “Adolescent Peer Relations, Friendships, and Romantic Relationships:
Do They Predict Social Anxiety and Depression?” Annette M. La Greca, Hannah Moore Harrison, Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 2005, Vol. 34, No. 1, 49–61