Using altered books with bereaved teens has proven to be a beautiful format for telling the stories of their loved ones and their own journey through loss – their chapters of grief, coping, and memories.  An article I read recently by Gioia Chilton was an amazing description and explanation about this powerful art therapy intervention.

Books have structure and literal boundaries, cover to cover . They have a defined beginning and ending conveying containment, a necessary aspect to therapeutic work.  Books are portable; they can be carried around and worked on in many settings.  An adolescent artist can focus on a section at a time.
and altered books are adaptable to varied levels of artistic skill.

When we work with books, we are working with an object rich in symbolism associated with knowledge and learning.  Books as objects, in general, are respected and honored.  Care is taken in their keeping and shelving.  A book’s innate value conveys value to the teen’s work.  Teens are able to do some healthy and safe authority testing and convention challenging through altering text.  The artist is an agent of change and transformation, altering the status quo through the respected object.

The adolescent is consumed, if unconsciously, by a process of identity exploration.  The book provides a format for transformation from uniform to unique and conforming to creating.

Chilton wrote, “Our own core text- that blend of culture, childhood experience and inner spirit- can also be transformed by the material life presents us.  The wisdom and revelation contained in the books we alter become our own… (2007, p.63)”


Chilton, G. (2007).  Altered Books in Art Therapy with Adolescents, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 24 (2), pp. 59-63.



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