Art Therapy for Healing Addiction

Paint palette - art therapy for addiction

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to describe someone with a substance abuse issue as being a person who holds a lot of emotions inside. In fact, one of the common reasons cited for starting to use drugs or alcohol is to cope with negative emotions.

Learning healthy ways to process your feelings is a key part of the recovery process.  Art therapy gives participants an opportunity to use self-expression to resolve problems, relieve stress, manage behavior, and increase self-esteem.

About Art Therapy

Art therapy is often used in conjunction with other types of therapy, such as group therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. It can be used to help clients in many situations, including where:

  • The client is living with a mental health issue.
  • The client is experiencing social problems.
  • The client has experienced a traumatic event, either directly or as a witness.

Licensed or certified art therapists have either completed a graduate degree in art therapy or hold an advanced degree in counseling and have completed specialized courses in art therapy.

How Art Therapy Works

Clients in an art therapy class can use a number of methods to express themselves. The art therapist may ask them to draw or paint a picture, make a sculpture, or use items to make a collage.

Clients are encouraged to make something that reveals how they see themselves or what they feel about a certain event, as opposed to using the art supplies to fashion an image of something they see around them. This is the focus of the session, as opposed to teaching the client about art techniques.

How Art Therapy Benefits Clients in Addiction Treatment

Art therapy has a number of benefits for people recovering from a substance abuse problem.

It teaches clients about mindfulness.

While working with art media, clients in drug and alcohol treatment programs can practice focusing on how they feel in the present moment. For someone who has spent a lot of time trying to avoid how they feel, it can take practice to learn how to slow down and observe objects and simply be aware of feelings in a given situation.

Art therapy helps by making emotions visible.

Through working with art, clients can look at their emotions and start dealing with them. They discover that feeling anger, hurt, or shame is part of being human and that these feelings are not unusual. The feelings themselves are neither right or wrong; they just exist.

It fosters changes in behavior.

Once emotions that are bothering a client have been identified, art therapy can help the client to decide on new ways to deal with them. Through drawing or painting, the client can practice what changing his behavior could look like with friends and family members.

This type of, “What if?” thinking calls on clients to be creative in their responses. The art therapist will ask why a client imagined a less-than-positive reaction to a change in behavior. The client’s response can be explored in later group therapy or individual sessions, if necessary.

Art therapy lets clients communicate in pictures when they don’t have the words they need.

The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is perfectly true when working with people recovering from a substance abuse issue. Often, they have ideas and emotions they can’t express using only words. Through art therapy, they can use pictures made up of different types of art media to tell the story they need to communicate about their emotions and their addiction.

Beginning the Recovery Journey

English Mountain Recovery uses a number of treatment techniques, including art therapy, to help clients at its residential treatment program. If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, our team of caring and experienced professionals can help you take the first steps towards recovery.

By Jodee Redmond