Art Therapy for Addiction Recovery
Here at Elevate’s Northern California facilities (Santa Cruz, CA. and Placerville, CA.) and our South Lake Tahoe facility we do not believe that addiction is the result of a weak character, but rather evidence of deeper physical, emotional and spiritual dilemmas. To address these underlying issues, we don’t just simply treat the symptoms of addiction. Instead, alongside evidence-based practices, we treat the whole person and teach each person how to create a meaningful life without substances.
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As a therapeutic tool, art therapy is appropriate in many contexts across age, gender, and circumstances. Used everywhere from private counseling practices to hospitals, senior care facilities, and correctional institutions, it is known for its ability to assist individuals in identifying and expressing thoughts, feelings, and deeply buried issues.
This holistic treatment approach also appears in many addiction treatment programs. Alongside evidence-based practices such as motivational interviewing or dialectical behavioral therapy, it provides an alternative way for clients to express their emotions and explore the issues that may be contributing to their addiction.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a type of experiential therapy (Therapy based on doing or participating in certain activities) that utilizes the creative process and a variety of mediums (painting, drawing, sculpting, and more) to help clients heal. This approach to therapy is always completed with the assistance of a licensed art therapist, who guides the client through specific activities.
An art therapy session typically involves the participant working on an art project while the therapist observes their work, asks questions, and helps the participant to work through the insights obtained through their art. Often, the therapist will guide the participant through specific art projects with the goal of helping them to understand both their addiction and their recovery.
How does art therapy support addiction recovery?
Art therapy is used in many treatment centers for its ability to support the recovery of clients who may otherwise struggle to talk about their addiction. These are some of the most important ways in which art therapy is used to encourage a more successful rehab.
Art therapy encourages clients to consider the consequences of their addiction.
One of the most common approaches to art therapy, called the First Step Series, guides clients through a series of 5 activities intended to give them a visual representation of both what life would be like if they continue in their addiction and what life would be like if they take steps toward recovery. These activities support clients in considering the benefits of embracing change, and seek to give them the self-confidence and tools necessary to move toward recovery.
Art therapy provides an alternative way to explore feelings.
Not every client can easily discuss their feelings verbally. Art therapy is used to help these individuals express their thoughts and feelings through the less confrontational path of creativity. With the support of the art therapist, clients can identify previously unrecognized feelings and themes that show up in their artwork and then process them in a creative and nonjudgmental environment.
Art therapy supports clients’ self-esteem and mental health.
In addition to helping clients explore recognized and subconscious feelings and issues, art therapy is also used to help build clients’ self-esteem and mental health. The creative process can be used to assist clients in feeling empowered and capable. In addition, art therapy may play a role in alleviating depression, reducing stress, and lowering feelings of anxiety.
Art therapy provides an alternative way to explore feelings.
Developing ways of coping with cravings, negative emotions, and addictive triggers is often critical to a client’s recovery. Art therapy can help. Not only can the process of creating art serve as a coping mechanism in and of itself, but the exploration of previously unrecognized feelings and experiences can help clients also learn new ways of coping with these obstacles to their recovery. Alongside a licensed art therapist, they can not only identify these problematic feelings and ideas but find ways to deal with them so that they no longer motivate the individual toward addiction.
What are some common approaches in art therapy?
Art therapy requires no artistic talent or creative experience. Instead, this approach focuses on the process of creating and what it reveals about the individual. Within an art therapy session, the individual or group focuses on completing a piece of artwork based on a project suggested by the art therapist.
The therapist will then observe, comment, or discuss the themes that come up as a result of the creative process and the resulting piece of art. Here are some of the most common approaches used in art therapy:
- First Step Series – The client is guided through a series of art projects that encourage them to evaluate the consequences of remaining in addiction vs. embracing change
- Drawing a timeline of the client’s life
- Transformational Life Portraits – A series of self-portraits designed to build self-esteem and a sense of empowerment
- Unstructured Art – An freestyle exploration of emotions
- Group art projects – These often require teamwork
While art therapy is most often used in treatment programs tailored to women, this therapeutic approach is appropriate for any age or gender. When used alongside evidence-based practices, it can help clients explore their feelings, handle stress, depression, and anxiety, and visualize themselves in a successful recovery.
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