Art therapy for teens: Moving beyond hideouts and holdouts

Adolescence is a time of transformation that can often feel isolating or confusing. With the pressures of growing up, there is sometimes little time available to work through this period of transition. It might be worthwhile for the young person to have a space that he or she could recognise as their own. This could provide them an opportunity to find their own voice, and image of what life is about.

The young person may come to art therapy for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, they could be struggling to manage with being both a child and having a sense of separateness from their parents. This might come with a sense of loss, despair and confusion or feeling unsettled or stuck. To cope, the young person might unconsciously build up certain defences, which could feel painful for everyone involved. 

Psychotherapist Sheila Hill calls a particular set of these defences “hideouts and holdouts”. They are escapes or refuges through various means for the individual to avoid painful contact with others and perhaps parts of themselves. A retreat could be seen as a way of managing difficult feelings. The aim of art therapy is to provide the young person a different sort of containment of feelings in a space that feels safe to allow for emotional contact and development.

Art therapy is more than just another type of psychotherapy - it has an almost intuitive appeal for young people. The creative process could mirror some of the struggles encountered in youth. There is no requirement to be a skilled artist - the focus is on exploring internal experience rather than the objects in the external world. The sessions can become a creative and thinking space for the teen to work through their blind spots, stumbling blocks and hidden potential in their search for a more integrated self.

Finally, it's important to bear in mind that the art therapist is committed to support the family as well. The work then aims to bring together a space to contain the worries of the parents during this period of transition.

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