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MFA Thesis 2020

Traditional talk therapy can be awkward and trying for adolescents as well as for the counselors working with them. When adolescents are working out identity and personality, creativity can serve as a powerful medium for articulating who they are and how they feel, despite struggling to get the words out.


Arti is a set of four figurines designed to be canvases for creative, nonverbal expression for adolescents, while simultaneously acting as tools for a therapist to help engage their young clients. Arti's materiality as an object provides the structure of a physical form for the adolescent to handle and move. On the other hand, its blank facades offer an opportunity to customize and surfaces to manipulate at will.


The client chooses whichever figurine they respond to the most. They then mark on or modify the surface of the figurines using easily accessible art or craft supplies, such as markers, paints, stickers, glue, etc., that the therapist has on hand in the office. In this way, Arti is both object and activity. First, it invites the user to engage in a creative process of their choosing. Then, it becomes an object to reference and hold throughout the therapy session. Arti becomes a tool with which the adolescent client can communicate with their therapist and express how they feel.


3D Product Design



CAD Modeling


2D Animation


Icons by Victoruler 

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In the U.S.

3.4 million adolescents

receive specialty mental health services

.....but they don't always want to be there

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Stakeholder & Secondary Research

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“When a kid is sitting in front of you and refusing to talk to you it’s an expression of power, because they feel powerless. They’re definitely demonstrating something. [...] There’s a rebellion against authority, and as a therapist sometimes you can embody that role.”

-Rianna Black, Adolescent Therapist

Rianna, and many other therapists interviewed over the course of the thesis process, discussed nonverbal ways to help their clients feel more comfortable and empowered during the therapy process. As Rianna put it during our interview one rainy afternoon, “it’s a rare adolescent who can sit and just open up and talk.” This is where play and creativity come in.


“Creativity can serve as a medium of expression that is often recognized as therapeutic rather than threatening or stigmatizing, because it provides a safe distance between client and counselor in comparison to traditional talk therapy” (Bennett et. al 2).

Bennett, Elisabeth D., et al. “Five Out of the Box Techniques for Encouraging Teenagers to Engage in Counseling.” American Counseling Association, VISTAS Online, 2017.

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Opportunity Statement

How might we use creativity to help adolescents feel empowered and express themselves during therapy?

Core Users


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Adolescent & Child Counselors

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Young & Middle Adolescents (ages 10-18) in Therapy or Counseling

Sketches & Prototyping


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