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Group Art Therapy Program Helps Adolescents

The kids were not okay, and staff at Open Door knew it. 

In recent years, health professionals noted an alarming increase in mental health conditions among teenage girls. 

Open Door Family Medical Center in New York’s Westchester County tackled the problem with art therapy in a group setting to supplement existing individual therapy offerings, and initial results have been encouraging. 

Mental health professionals believe many causes contributed to the spike in cases involving girls, including COVID-19 shutdowns followed by challenging reentry to schools. 

“How those girls responded was with self-harm behaviors – cutting and suicidal ideation,” said Shonny Capodilupo, senior director of behavioral health at Open Door. 

Social media also plays a role. Young women may experience online bullying and “pressure to be pretty and skinny and talented. Their perception of reality gets skewed,” she said. 

The pressures can seem overwhelming, and the therapy offers a respite. “In the art therapy, it allows that young girl to have control,” Capodilupo said. It also allows the girls to express emotions and issues nonverbally, which makes it a useful adjunct to talk therapy. 

Participants have been 13 to 17 years old, and most are also in individual therapy. 

Holding single-sex weekly art therapy sessions at a health center is unusual. However, the practice makes sense because girls and boys express emotions in distinctive ways, and the girls find it is a positive setting that builds a sense of comradery, Capodilupo said. 

“It helps them to understand they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing.”