As a counselor, I have the opportunity to help adolescent consumers explore and touch upon a variety of issues or ‘human interest’ topics during their treatment. As the A.R.T.C. Specialist of the Franklin County site, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is using the arts—music, photography, videography, creative writing, blogging, painting, and on and on—to help these consumers express their emotions, usually in very exciting and creatively appropriate ways. Even consumers that often have difficulty expressing or identifying their emotions enjoy using the arts, which grants them the freedom to say what they want. When a consumer has that ‘lightbulb’ moment where they can use colors, sounds, pictures, or words to convey what they are feeling or thinking, it is an awe-inspiring thing to witness.
We live in a scary and confusing world sometimes. Around the world there is heartbreak and suffering every day. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook gave many people a reason to take to social media to discuss the “whys and hows” of the situation. Consumers were definitely not unaffected by this event. Many addressed their own opinions and thoughts on this tragedy, discussing their shock and grief at the evil that exists in this world, and even more expressed underlying fears that it could happen to them at their own little schools (a hard conversation to have, regardless of age or years of experience). Fortunately, these young people were able to turn to art when words failed them as so much of what they face and have experienced is not adequately expressed in average everyday language. Whether they were expressing anger, confusion, sadness, or fear, many consumers used their creations to identify the struggle to understand ‘why’.
Most consumers I work with have a fascination with painting. As I always say, ‘art is definitely messy’ and I think they enjoy that no-holds barred type of project-making. Recently, we have used a lot of splatter painting, texture painting, or even finger painting to express emotions. When consumers engage in this project, we usually spend a lot of time addressing what their emotions are like to them, using colors to describe their feelings, and assigning colors to particular emotions. As they splatterpaint onto a canvas, or use fingers to swirl the paint around, we address which feelings they are representing with each particular color, and why they made that color choice. Also, since some of my consumers have sensory issues, the finger-painting was therapeutic for them. We also experimented at using found objects as ‘stamps’ for their paintings, such as sponges, forks, or even pieces of bread (a very interesting session, to say the least!). If we give consumers the opportunity to use art as an outlet, perhaps they can turn to these appropriate coping skills when they experience these feelings, or would be more apt to correctly identify their emotions rather than struggle with these.
My consumers continue to amaze me with their ability to cope and their resiliency. They give me hope that the world can still be seen as a positive and hopeful place, and that they can take these coping skills with them into the future, and teach others as well.
by Megan Smith
About the author: Megan Smith serves as the A.R.T.C. Specialist in our Franklin County A.R.T.C. program, providing youth experiencing high risk situations with creative supportive services.