by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC
Art Therapy with Young Adults: Identity, Autonomy and Relationship-Building
Engaging the modality of art as a therapeutic process across the lifespan has provided many with an alternative to traditional talk therapy by encouraging expression in a safe, open and limitless way. As with children and adolescents, it may be appropriate to think of young adults, who we might categorize as individuals between the ages of 18-25, as a group that share a balance of similarities based on their age and stage in life.
Young adults may experience similar life transitions at certain points in time, such as graduating from high school or dropping out of high school, parental divorce, transition to college or vocational training, managing higher education and working, living on their own for the first time or away from home, relationship challenges, and/or a multitude of other changes that may occur. Young adults may also be experiencing the weight of significant and relatable stressors, internal dilemmas, significant losses and existential questions to be explored, such as “Is this what I want to be doing?”, “Is this who I want to be?”, “Is this relationship right for me?”, “Do I really want to continue with this path or do I need to shift it?” and “Who am I?”.
Young adults who decide to come to therapy as a personal choice, may want to explore issues related to their own identities- thoughts, questions, concerns, fears or curiosities related to gender, race/ethnicity/culture, socioeconomic status, ability/disability, sexuality, sexual identity and/or mental health status. While adolescence may be a foundation for exploring and forming one’s own individual identity, it is in young adulthood that many may experience the space and opportunity to develop these characteristics and follow through with their own decision-making capabilities to assert and reinforce their own values and goals. Or it may be true that some reach this point and continue to experience a lack of freedom or direction and struggle to adopt a clear sense of who they are or what they want. And perhaps for others, it may be important to consider family dynamics and cultural aspects of identity formation, especially as we consider those who are first or second-generation individuals from immigrant families.
In art therapy, young adults have access to tools and modes of expression that can allow them to release the pressures to succeed- to be doing more, to be proving themselves as worthy for a college, career, internship, parental approval- and to reconnect with their inner strength and resilience, their capabilities, intuitive instincts and unique understandings of the world. Drawing provides a unique way for these individuals to be seen and heard through their own choosing- they get to decide what is created, what is developed, what is said or not said. Often working with symbols, such as doors, roads, masks, bridges and walls, provides a rich landscape for individuals to express their innermost fears, desires, hopes, dreams and passions, and have the opportunity to externalize them in a safe and transformative way.
As a young adult, there is so much opportunity to engage with new and often conflicting information that may or may not align with values, thoughts and beliefs that are reflective of her/his/their family, culture, or social group. Art therapy offers individuals a chance to explore, to question, and to re-evaluate what is right for them outside of the opinions and pressures that are experienced at home, at work, at school, in various social groups, etc. Being able to abstract these emotions and thoughts with paint or to clarify them with a micron pen and colored pencils is a way for us to open the conversation and achieve connection.
As a final point, it is not a nuanced idea, but one to be acknowledged- that young adults are also exploring not only their individual characters, beliefs and behaviors, but also confronting interpersonal dilemmas, relational strategies, attachments and loss. With art therapy, the use of mixed media, collaging, sculpture and assemblage can prove to be appropriate modes of exploring and connecting to the heart of intimacy and attachment, trauma and trust.
If you connect or relate to the information above or believe that yourself or a friend, or a loved one could benefit from the use of art therapy, then we welcome you to explore the Holistic Health Counseling website to learn more and schedule an appointment. Please click on the links below to learn more:
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