Status Update: Counseling in Schools

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This past March, MPS Art Therapy alumni Jennifer Byxbee, ATR-BC, LCAT (Class of 2007) and Amanda J. Zucker, ATR-BC, LCAT (Class of 2011) ran a pilot program as part of the Department’s art therapy in schools initiative. This program, Status Update, focused on blogging with an adolescent population and explored various themes: identity, bullying, community, and relationships and how these topics relate to their lives and how they play out on social media. Parts of the group have been documented and shared through a multi-user blog, you can check it out here.

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Adolescents spend an estimated 7.5 hours per day using social media, almost as long as the workday of most adults. In 2012, 95 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 used the Internet (Office of Adolescent Health 2013). The center of their social worlds has shifted from their neighborhoods, schools and group affiliations to the Internet. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become platforms for teens to express ideas; create, maintain and end relationships; and develop online identities. This shift is not only changing their maturation process but also our future. During adolescence the brain becomes wired to seek novelty (Siegel 2013). This makes teens particularly susceptible to a changing technological world. Along with novelty, teens are more likely to take risks, reacting to their world without fully taking time to understand the consequences (Siegel 2013).

 
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In this rapidly changing society therapy continues to follow the same old model. We have not kept up with the times. In most cases helping professionals such as teachers and therapists are ignoring the new Internet norms as opposed to educating adolescents on the threats and issues they face online. As art therapists we have the unique opportunity to utilize these tools to encourage community, connection, expression, and identity formation. We can give adolescents freedom of expression in a medium that comes naturally to them. We can collaborate with them to discuss and analyze what this expression means and how it affects their lives.

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As therapists, we are responsible to meet our clients where they are and maintain their safety. We can use blogging as a therapeutic method to engage with a medium familiar to our adolescent clients, while moderating and modeling safe use. This creates a holding environment for our clients. The Internet is changing how people spend their time, socialize and develop. It is our duty to address and understand our clients’ lives as they live them, and to support them as they develop their most authentic selves.

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The MPS Art Therapy Department has been providing financial and material support for alumni-run programs since 2012. To date, we have developed programs utilizing stop-motion animation and photography/tablet computer technology, and we are interested in continuing to explore art therapy applications of emerging technologies, as well as more traditional approaches to art-making.

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