The therapeutic relationship or therapeutic alliance is said to be one of the most important components of successful therapy.
"Therapeutic alliance and its connection to youth outcomes appears to transcend treatment type and client population." (Kelley, Bickman, & Norwood, 2010, p. 339).
Art therapy can enhance the therapeutic relationship by providing clients with the opportunity to be seen as well as heard. Cathy Malchiodi tells us that the therapist’s ability to provide full attention to a person’s creative process and images, communicates they are seeing and understanding correctly what the person is expressing through art (Malchiodi, 2011). This could be the first time a person has ever felt truly heard and seen, which can be a profoundly healing experience.
Art therapy can often be the therapy of choice for young people, as art making allows them to express themselves freely without the limitations of language, whilst they are still developing their vocabularies for describing feelings and thoughts. They can control the process of their art making, make choices and safely take risks with art materials, which supports their development during adolescence (Riley, 1999). It can also help them to build trust in their therapist and forge a strong therapeutic relationship.
Young people can reveal their thoughts and feelings through their choices of imagery and methods of expression, when words are not possible, nor enough.
The images may speak to us, but it is not up to the art therapist to interpret their meaning, rather to witness and honour these images as part of the young person, to ask the young person what they can see for themselves and help them to integrate the imagery into their sense of reality.
The image portrayed here is not representative of a particular client and any similarity is purely coincidental.
Kelley, S. D., Bickman, L., & Norwood, E. (2010). Evidence-based treatments and common factors in youth psychotherapy in Duncan, B. L., Miller, S. D., Wampold, B. E., & Hubble, M. A. (2010). The heart and soul of change: Delivering what works in therapy . American Psychological Association.
Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2011). Handbook of art therapy. Guilford Press.
Riley, S. (1999). Contemporary art therapy with adolescents, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.