Helping Teens Who Struggle – Let’s look Beyond Behavior into their Bruised Heart

How do you see yourself when you are looking into a mirror?
How do you see yourself when you are looking into a mirror?

She enters the room, shy and timid with her head tilted towards her chest and her eyes staring at the floor. Her arms are straight like sticks, the hands clenched into fists, her walk stiff and robot-like. I take her into my arms. “You are safe here,” I whisper and “I love you.” I notice a glimpse of surprise as if she non-verbally signaled “This woman is kind of different.”

I sit down with her and hand her paper and crayons. “How old are you?” I ask her. “15” she answers with a very low voice that’s hardly audible. “Could you draw yourself the way you see yourself when you look into a mirror?” I ask her and she nods.

She shows me the picture and I want to know how this girl, she has just drawn, feels inside. “She’s sad and afraid, I guess.” says the girl I’m going to call “Sally” for this article.

I ask Sally to tap along with me while I say meaningful affirmations to make her feel better. I’m starting with “Even though you are sad and frightened you are alright the way you are and you are loved and accepted deeply and dearly.” Sally is tapping with me and her body starts to relax a little bit. I let her take deep breaths before we start another round.

Then I put two circles on the floor, one for “how Sally feels now” and one for “how Sally feels when she’s happy”. I let her step into the energy fields and feel the difference. I let her tell me about a positive experience when she really felt great in her past.

Then I put on some music and encourage her to move into the happy memory she had told me about before. I have no expectations; we have all the time of the world to heal. The music is light and joyfull. I’m spinning and whirling around and I ask her how she thinks butterflies may feel when they’re dancing in the wind looking down at a field filled with flowers. She starts to lift her arms and slowly releases her fists; from time to time she finds my eyes and returns my smile.

As we continued working together we became good friends who share experiences. Good and deep conversations accompanied with drawing and dancing lead Sally to achieve her goals for each session. Last time she told me the sessions with me were fun and she missed me when she had to go away for a family visit for a week. “The other therapists sucked,” she told me after a month with a strong voice “With you every session is an adventure; the whole week I’m wondering what we’ll be doing next. It’s so exciting.”

Most exciting for me was when this beautiful young teenager told me that she will be part in a dancing competition, performing in front of an audience. I thought back to the moment she came into my practice for the very first time and smiled at her, looking into her beautiful brown eyes, complimenting her on how far she got, hugging her dearly and wishing her the best of luck.

There is nothing as rewarding as seeing a young person grow and glow again!

Expressive Arts Therapy is the most powerful therapy modality in adolescent care.

It helps with the following mental health conditions:

  • Anxiety Disorders (Social Phobia, Panic Attacks)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD)
  • Coping with Traumatic Events (PTSD) and/or Depression
  • Eating Disorders (Bulimia and Anorexia)
  • Drug Addiction, Cutting and Suicide

I find that Expressive Arts Therapy is most effective in helping to engage adolescents in their treatment process. It also helps them probe more deeply into their thoughts and feelings (subconscious), than would be possible with an exclusive talk or cognitive behavioural therapy session.

The BalanCHIng® Method for Teens is a synergistic combination of

TRADITIONAL THERAPIES:            Talk Therapy & Gestalt Therapy

EXPRESSIVE ART THERAPIES:      Art Therapy (Drawing Painting, Collages, Crafts etc.), Dance/Movement Therapy, Drama Therapy, Written and Narrative Therapies

ENERGY MEDICINE:                         NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Reiki, Trance Therapy and Guided Imagery (Inner Child Work), Qigong and Systemic (Family) Constellations

The overall purpose of Expressive Arts therapies is to provide teens with alternative methods of expression that reaffirms their emotional experiences, and provides new perspectives of, and access to, their thought processes.  The beauty of these creative therapies, especially when used in combination with Talk Therapy sessions, is the opportunity for teens to feel more free to engage the creative activity, which in turn gives them indirect access and insight into their emotions and thoughts.  In my experience, it’s common for teens to feel less pressure and anxiety about fully taking part in the Expressive Arts therapies, because of the context and indirect nature of the process.  As a result, adolescents are able to then further evaluate and reflect upon the work occurring in other areas of their treatment.

The BalanCHIng® Method for Teens in and of itself is a very holistic, but above all a “multimodal approach” to Trauma and Anxiety treatment, in which teens can “flow” into and out of a number of different experiences, in order to gain the most thorough and powerful insight to themselves that’s possible.  This perspective on adolescent treatment in general marries well with my goals and approach to individualize every treatment plan, in order to maximize each adolescent’s ability to engage in treatment and therefore, achieve recovery.


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