Fourteen-year-old Joshua Graves has found an escape in the Therapeutic Classroom at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
It's called drama therapy, and it gives the teen-ager an opportunity to turn off his worries and problems for a while.
"I don't have to be myself," Joshua said, explaining why he likes acting. "I like to play the comedian. I like to be the center of attention. I like making them laugh and making them enjoy being around me."
Joshua, who has been attending the Therapeutic Classroom since September, also has found an emotional outlet in writing poetry.
"I write about things in my past life or about my feelings. I write about dramatic, real-life stuff that could happen," he said. "It just makes me feel good. I'm good at putting stuff into words."
Youngsters experiencing severe depression, panic or anxiety disorders, school phobia or severe mental illness often are helped by incorporating the arts into their academic and therapy settings, according to Lanell Finneran, special education teacher and drama therapist at the Bert Nash classroom.
Whether it's writing a song, forming a clay sculpture or crafting a poem, the process of creating the art provides insight into the child's behavior, thoughts and feelings.
"By the time these kids reach puberty and adolescence, they not only have to come to terms with their diagnosis, but also with their identity with the peer group, puberty and (distancing themselves) from their families," Finneran said. "The creative arts is a way to explore those feelings and tap into their strengths.
" The arts allows a person to both find and lose themselves. It's an opportunity to let go of an issue, and just be and have fun. They can look at issues and how they impact their lives, friends, family, relationships and academics."
Bert Nash has two therapeutic classrooms, which serve 18 students between the ages of 13 and 18 who have been referred by the Lawrence school district. The amount of time each student spends in the classroom varies based on their progress and continuing needs.
Some students attend classes at Lawrence junior high or high schools for part of the day; others spend their entire school day at Bert Nash.
Andrew Findley, 16, has been coming to the Therapeutic Classroom for about 1 1/2 years. In addition to working on academic subjects, he likes to draw figures inspired by the science fiction cartoon Dragonball Z. In his sketch book are drawings of an angry character.
"I use it to get feelings out and for venting," he said. "When I draw things, everything I feel that's built up (inside me comes out)."