Healing Through Creativity: Sarah’s Journey in Art Therapy

By: Lorelis Ploche, MS (Art Therapy), RMHCI

Sarah, a once-vibrant adolescent, has faced her fair share of challenges. Struggling with anxiety, she often found herself overwhelmed by negative thoughts and fears of the future.

Like many teens, Sarah used to navigate the complexities of adolescence with a sense of curiosity and excitement. Sarah used to be actively involved in her school’s volleyball team and participated in other after-school clubs. But something had changed in the past year. The activities that once brought her joy now felt like burdens, weighing her down with the pressure to perform and meet others’ expectations. She began to lose interest in the things she once loved, preferring the solace of solitude to the complexities of social interaction.

Sarah also became increasingly self-conscious about fitting in with her peers, questioned her place in her friend group and often felt like she didn’t belong. These feelings of inadequacy intensified her anxiety and exacerbated her depressive symptoms, causing her to withdraw further into herself. Social media only fueled her sense of inadequacy and burdened her with unrealistic expectations as she compared her life with those she admired online.

Sarah’s parents were at a loss for how to help her. Questions they asked were met with silence and a dismissive expression. Sarah’s parents sought out traditional “talk” therapy which provided some relief, but Sarah’s therapist shared that she rarely spoke during sessions, offered little information, and seemed unmotivated in treatment. Inwardly, Sarah longed for a deeper connection to her inner self and a means of expressing her emotions beyond words. Sarah’s depressive symptoms manifested in her withdrawal from social activities, her tendency to isolate herself, and her persistent negative self-talk. Her therapist suggested a more creative approach in therapy and referred Sarah to art therapy.

Enter Art Therapy: A Glint of Hope in Darkness

Through art, Sarah embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Initially hesitant, Sarah felt pressure to create something beautiful. She hesitated in exploring different mediums such as painting and drawing, feeling as if she needed to produce something that was pleasing to other people. Fortunately, her art therapist, Lorelis Ploche, was able to work around the resistance by offering support and encouragement without judgment – “mistakes” were encouraged.

Exploring different mediums and techniques, Sarah unearthed hidden talents and aspects of her identity that she had long neglected. Through various art modalities such as painting, drawing, and collage work, Sarah began to tap into her subconscious mind and unlock emotions she didn’t even know existed. Sarah gained some insight into her insecurities, her unrealistic expectations for herself and the pressures she gave for being perfect. She came to understand that individuality was something to be embraced and valued. She came to understand that what mattered more was her own interpretation of her work rather than seeking praise and validation of what other people thought.

Soon Sarah looked forward to coming to art therapy and conversations with Lorelis came more naturally. She began sharing about her school and home life. Her fears, her perceptions, and her ambitions. Sarah also came to understand that each piece of artwork became a mirror reflecting her innermost self, guiding her towards a deeper understanding and acceptance of who she truly was.

For Sarah, art became her voice when words failed her. Through her artwork, she began to express complex emotions and experiences that she struggled to articulate verbally. Each stroke of paint or charcoal became an externalization of abstract and complex ideas. Because these ideas were given shape and form, Sarah was able to look at them more objectively. Metaphoric and symbolic representation of complex dynamics and feelings were readily available to be explored. And with that came insight into her thoughts and feelings.

Empowerment: The Evolution of Sarah’s Strength

As Sarah witnessed her artwork evolve and grow, she gained a sense of empowerment and agency over her life. Art became a powerful tool for self-discovery, enabling her to reclaim her narrative and rewrite her story. With each brushstroke, she asserted her resilience and determination to overcome adversity, inspiring others to do the same.

Engaging in art provided Sarah with a safe space to release pent-up emotions and process painful experiences. Each rip and repurposing of paper felt like a cathartic release, allowing her to let go of pain and embrace healing. The act of creation became a transformative process through which Sarah could externalize her internal struggles and confront them with courage and resilience.

Sarah’s Journey: A Tapestry of Transformation

Week by week, Sarah’s transformation became evident. From tentative brushstrokes to bold, expressive strokes, her artwork mirrored her inner journey of healing and self-discovery. Through the guidance of her art therapist, Sarah learned to embrace imperfection and trust in the process of creation. Each piece she created became a stepping stone towards her healing, a testament to her strength and resilience in the face of adversity. The courage and expression demonstrated in her art therapy sessions soon generalized to her school and home life. Sarah started spending more time out of her room. She seemed less depressed and her mother said they had enjoyed some time shopping at the mall together. At school, Sarah made an effort to be less isolated. She resumed sitting with others in the cafeteria and was more engaged in class. Sarah also cared less what other people said about her and put less effort into trying to fit in.

Sarah’s journey is not uncommon; it is often a transformative therapy for teens who do not benefit from traditional talk therapy. Through her experience, she emerged as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the profound impact of art therapy in navigating the intricate emotional terrain of adolescence and fostering resilience.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.


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