Teen Depression Treatment and Art Therapy: Options for Healing

The challenges of the teen years are well know and the biological and hormonal changes of puberty well documented.  Despite the plethora of information, few—teens and parents alike—are prepared for the physiological, emotional, and attitudinal fluctuations that characterize adolescent growth.  Some parents wonder if their once happy-go-lucky child has been hijacked or invaded by a testy doppelganger; some teens wonder if they are alone in experiencing the flood of emotions and moods, wonder if they are “normal.”  Because they are not practiced in the broader range of emotions, many teens lack the verbal skill to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings. They can feel as if there this something “wrong” with their reactions and thereby engage in a self-imposed censorship for fear of judgment or being different. For these reasons, the onset of mental health symptoms, like those of adolescent depression, are often missed or wrongly attributed to “just being a teenager.”

It is difficult for young people who are experiencing teen depression to understand what is happening to them.  On one hand, they are told it is puberty, on the other hand, they know their internal experience is vastly different from their peers.  This confusion, paired with the challenge of giving expression to their emotional turmoil, not only makes identifying teen depression difficult but may impede the effectiveness of traditional psychotherapy, “talk therapy,” for many teens.

Though research indicates that psychotherapy—especially, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)—is effective in treating teen depression, it is important for parents and teens to know that there are adolescent depression treatment options beyond talk-based therapy.  For example, dance movement therapy (DMT) is believed to balance the sympathetic nervous system and neurotransmitters associated with depression, whereas Art Therapy, by being imagery based, allows teens to give expression, conscious and unconscious, to feelings and experiences which they are unable to access with words. Additionally, many teens, who have experienced abuse or neglect, have been conditioned “not to tell.”  Expressive arts therapies, such as DMT or Art Therapy, provide teens an opportunity to give voice to the unspeakable. The internalized fear and restriction associated with speaking their stories have not been assigned to movement or drawing, thus making these therapeutic approaches safer and more accessible means of addressing the drivers of a teen’s depression.

Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) and Art Therapy as just two types of Expressive Arts Therapy that are available.  Music Therapy is also an effective approach to treating teen depression.  Adolescent social groups and individual identity expression is often connected to musical genres, and many teens find respite and expression through music.  A trained Music Therapist can make inroads in addressing a teen’s depression through the music the client prefers.  Many studies have established links between music, emotion, and mood.  There is confirmed evidence that music can induce mood and allow for expression of emotion making it a powerful therapeutic tool in the hands of a skilled Music Therapist.  Many teens can benefit greatly from these therapeutic options, but it is important to find a therapist who is trained and licensed in these specific modalities.  DMT, Art, or Music Therapists are mental health professionals who have undertaken additional education to specialize in these areas.  For effective teen depression treatment, it is suggested that you confirm that your provider is licensed or credentialed.  Some teen providers will employ art, dance, movement, and music without having the professional training and acumen to do so in a therapeutically beneficially manner.


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