What are creative arts therapies and how can they benefit your child?
As a parent, it can be difficult not only recognizing that your child may indeed need the help of a professional but also knowing which professional to choose. How do I know who’s right for him or her? Who will relate best to my child and get them to open up, especially when it seems like there are so many credentialed therapists to choose from? Allow me to take a few minutes of your time to introduce you to the wonderful world of Play and Creative Arts Therapies.
There’s a common misconception that you need to have a certain level of talent to participate in creative arts therapies—but that is not the case. Anyone, of any age, can benefit from these therapies with the help of a trained professional. Creative Arts Therapies encompass art, music, drama, movement, and other creative forms of expression. Play therapy is typically considered to be its own type of therapy; however, in my professional opinion, play is just another form of creativity.
Infants as young as a few days old can and do benefit from various forms of creativity. (For more background on this take a look at Piaget’s stages of development and early sensorimotor play techniques.) As soon as a newborn baby opens his or her eyes for the first time they are beginning to soak in their surroundings. In hospitals all over the world there are therapists, specialists, and volunteers who devote their time to interacting with these little ones and making sure that they hear pleasant sounds, see interesting visuals, and feel comforting touches. Perhaps you didn’t realize it at the time but your baby, too, received special therapy through those acts.
Play is the universal language of all children. Gender, race, ethnicity, language—none of these factors become an obstacle with play and creativity. It is because of this notion that the ideas, concepts, and theories behind creative therapies have taken off. Beginning at age two, many toddlers are capable of expressing their frustration, happiness, and sadness through creativity. Most two-year-olds, as you might imagine, have trouble communicating verbally: stringing one or two words together at that age is often more than any parent can expect. But if you put a pile of blocks, some crayons, or a doll in front of that child then suddenly it is as if they have been communicating for years.
Children ages two through twelve (sometimes even older) can benefit from creative arts therapies, specifically play therapy. A child fearful of doctors can become the doctor through play and can learn how to overcome those fears. An abused child, selectively mute, can find his or her voice through paint and crayon; without saying a word, they can make their story known to a person they trust. The angry and jealous child that does not want to share mommy and daddy with a new sibling can utilize a sand tray as a way to create their own world and share their story. This idea takes the basic concept of talk psychotherapy—the need to vent to someone and release one’s inner conflicts and issues—and applies it to ways that are more welcoming to children and adolescents. The possibilities are truly endless.
As children get older and enter adolescence they do not lose their passion for playing. Instead, creation often takes a back seat to education and responsibilities. This is the most important reason of all to offer your child a creative outlet. Art and music programs, seen as expendable, are cut from schools every year. Couple these cuts with an increase in social media use, increase in bullying incidences, increase in impulse control issues, decrease in self-esteem, and decrease in social skills, and we’ve got ourselves a recipe for disaster. These tweens and teens need an outlet, a place that they can call their own to voice whatever it is they feel. They need to believe they will not be judged, that they are free to speak their minds (via talking or other methods), and that they are in control of what’s important in their lives. This is their therapy.
Having choices is like walking on the moon to adolescents. These teens can typically handle a combination of traditional psychotherapy and creative arts therapies. It’s important to give them different outlets to express their thoughts and feelings, and it’s important to support them and watch them help themselves. That is, of course, the main goal: help teens learn how to cope with their issues and get them through those issues in healthy and appropriate ways. Is your kid feeling angry? Throw down some paint—feel that emotion release! Depressed? Let them put their emotions into a song and belt it out loud. Noticing your child can’t focus? Well let’s get him or her up and dancing. If these outlets sound simplistic it’s because they are. Creativity is a simple idea. The most difficult part is not choosing to be creative but rather finding which therapy will prove to be beneficial for each individual. I always question those I supervise with, “Is every child or teen the same?” No, of course not. As a result, their therapy cannot be the same—nor should it be. A well-trained children and adolescent therapist will have a hefty bag of techniques to choose from to ensure that your child is getting what they need most from therapy.
As a parent your number one priority is your child. You know your child better than anyone. Take that knowledge, trust yourself, and allow it to lead you to a trained therapist that you believe will be a good fit for your child. If your child or adolescent is experiencing emotional, behavioral, or mental difficulties reach out to your doctor, psychiatrist, school, or insurance company and request a list of creative arts therapists within your community. Be sure that you have found a credentialed therapist. The professional you find should be either licensed, board certified ,or registered for their specialty. Choose carefully, step wisely, and then eventually breathe easy. The kids really are all right.