Art Is an Umbrella, Shielding Youth in Stormy Times

Many believe art is the most effective form of therapy. Art therapy not only helps release visuals of a horrific past, it releases the soul to become free of all hurt, pain and regret that we let hold us down. It gives you control of your own life and imagination even if it’s just for a few hours.

A youth who has experienced trauma may not know how to articulate their feelings to a therapist because of a defense mechanism we develop at a very young age not to trust anyone.

Through art – no matter the form – you identify the root of your pain. Writing is a good example: When you write, things come out that you didn’t know were there, and you begin to reflect on those issues, and some sort of healing begins to take place.

Recently I worked in Congresswoman Karen Bass’s office on the Congressional Art Competition. What started as a shadow opportunity from the National Foster Youth Institute turned into a full hands-on experience. While cataloging artwork, I came across some pieces made with great talent, and one in particular stood out.

When I saw this piece, which won the competition, it spoke so loudly without words. You can look at this canvas and feel the pain, anger and frustration. As I was admiring it, I found out that this kid – the artist – has autism. In that moment, I had an epiphany, and I realized why art is so powerful: After congratulating this young man, I realized that he was able to articulate through his art what he can’t express with his words.

Art is more than just an elective. For some, art is their primary language; for some, it’s therapy; for some it’s an outlet to express emotion; and for the rest, it’s a hobby.

There are many forms of art: music, dance, poetry, photography, film and more. Most foster youth I know are artists who tell their stories through music, media and other art forms.

Painting by Rachel Bavis.
Painting by Rachel Bavis.

I asked a mentor and very close friend of mine, Rachel Bavis, her thoughts about art therapy. Bavis is a lawyer but she’s also an Intentional Creativity Coach.

This is what she had to say in an email interview:

“I believe the Intentional Creativity process is incredibly effective,” Bavis wrote. “With Intentional Creativity, you create a quiet stillness to hear inner messages and give them form —i n words and paint — in a relaxed and nurturing environment. You then have the opportunity to apply the insights and inner wisdom to your life and live in a way that is, in a word, more ‘you.'”

“I also teach foster youth,” Bavis continued, “to support creative self-expression and self-empowerment. The youth I’ve worked with feel similarly; though some start in resistance, when they realize that they get to be in control of the process – i.e. that it is about each person’s individual connection to a deeper wisdom and knowledge within – they relax.”

I took an art class with Rachel at Esalen Institute back in 2015 with Spirit Awakening Foundation. It was a transformational experience. I got to learn how therapeutic art really is.

Art is a language. Everything is a form of art: the way we talk, the way we eat, the way we think. Art is a universal language spoken by many people in many different forms. For me, art is writing as an outlet, as is public speaking.

Art saved me from depression when I was ready to call it quits. I began to write poetry and music, and my journal became my therapist. I began to find esteem within myself through my music.

Art is my umbrella through the storms.

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Johna Rivers
About Johna Rivers 3 Articles
Johna Rivers is a 22-year-old activist who rose above her circumstances as a foster youth and beat the statistics. She is co-founder of the first ever film festival for young people, creating a platform for young kids to highlight issues plaguing their communities locally or globally. She has traveled to Africa and Brazil, and is a powerhouse making moves to create change.