Artistic Release

Art therapy offers adolescents an alternative method for exploring personal problems and emotional issues.

Linda Zahavi, a national and board certified art therapist and active member of Portland’s Congregation P’nai Or, has a growing local practice on Southwest Boones Ferry Road. She uses art therapy as an effective means for patients to explore their feelings by using various creative materials and techniques to facilitate expression.

Zahavi began working with youth intensively at Portland’s Janus Youth Program and has recently opened up her practice to adolescents. “I could not imagine another modality for the youth. Art therapy involves a talking, interactive, counseling process as well as art-making,” said Zahavi. Teens, who often feel resistant to opening up to traditional forms of talk therapy can relax if they are making art in a safe, non-threatening environment.

Interestingly, Zahavi also points out that teens can use art to take a step back from issues and gain perspective. “The externalization inherent in art-making can keep issues from becoming emotionally overwhelming and provide a voice for inner conflicts that are hard to talk about,” explained Zahavi. In addition, art therapists are able to identify issues expressed through the artwork that might be missed by a non-art therapist or art teacher, which provides further clues for guidance.

Local Portland teenager Sarah Lieberman has used art as a form of self-therapy. “I love to paint as a way of working through my own issues so I think art therapy would be more helpful for me than traditional therapy,” said Lieberman.

The National Jewish Health organization incorporated art therapy in 1983, and it has since become an integral part of their Pediatric Care Unit. National Jewish Health believes that children’s artwork often reveals feelings about their illnesses such as fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness and anxiety and when feelings are expressed and identified through art, a sense of relief and control often follows.

On their website,, the artwork produced by adolescents from their art therapy sessions is striking. One entry by Denise, age 18, includes a picture of a clay sculpture; the inscription reads, “The asthma monster to me is like an unpredictable child. He will suck away all your air with his large mouth in order to place the fear of not being able to breathe inside of you. The asthma monster is more the fear of not being able to breathe.”

Zahavi explains that art therapy offers an alternative form of relief for many adolescents who feel lost. “I particularly like working with teenagers because art therapy can illuminate hidden family, school or friendship issues. Then we can work to develop resources and invite much-needed transformation.”

Vanessa Van Petten is a freelance writer and speaker now living in Portland. She specializes in human relationships, with a focus on youth and family. Her websites, and her popular parenting blog, have both been featured in the media. Her latest book for parents, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?, won the 2012 Mom’s Choice Award.


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