Many people have fond memories of art class from their childhood. Simply creating something beautiful (or not) provided a break from the usual routine of the school day and gave children a chance to let their creative juices flow.
Art therapy can play a similar role in addiction treatment programs. The process of creating art grants those in addiction treatment or recovery reprieve from talking about their feelings. It allows clients to express their thoughts and emotions in an entirely different way. While it may not be the most popular among numerous treatment options, art therapy could be the next step in your journey to healing.
1. A different form of communication
Most therapies used during addiction treatment are verbal in nature, including individual counseling, group sessions, 12-step programs and other forms of talk therapy. While these approaches are effective for many people, some find it exceedingly difficult to put painful thoughts and feelings into words.
In these cases, augmenting a standard treatment program with complementary therapies, including art therapy, can make a big difference in promoting healing. What is art therapy, you may be wondering? The art therapy definition, according to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), is:
“An integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.
Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”
This form of therapy is beneficial particularly when victims of trauma or abuse are rendered speechless: instead of struggling to describe certain feelings or choose the right words, participants have the ability to express themselves using a visual medium. By engaging their bodies with the image in their mind that they seek to portray, they promote integrity and connection between their physical and emotional selves something that has oftentimes been fractured through trauma or other negative life experiences.
When there is no specific visual, people can find freedom in simply beginning; healing happens when they discover where this freedom of expression can lead them. Art therapy also has a way of helping participants uncover and address deep-seated feelings that they’ve pushed into their subconscious for years.
There is a certain level of relaxation that is required in order to create something artistic. When past memories or emotions create an exceedingly tense atmosphere, it can make processing these things virtually impossible. Art has a way of disarming individuals and focusing their energies on something other than themselves. Oftentimes, this fosters an atmosphere of leisure that lends itself to more natural verbal processing.
2. Proven stress relief
Art and other creative pursuits are excellent sources of stress relief. Research into the effectiveness of art therapy in addiction treatment offers promising results.
One study shows that doing crafts or creating art boosts the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that acts as a natural antidepressant. Ongoing substance abuse can leave the body unable to produce adequate levels of dopamine on its own, but regular art therapy sessions may help restore the body’s natural levels and boost overall feelings of well-being.
Additional research suggests that art therapy can reduce anxiety in participants by lowering their levels of cortisol. This effect could help reduce the discomfort and stress that often accompanies withdrawal.
3. A way to measure progress
Another benefit of art therapy is its ability to help therapists track a participant’s progress. In most cases, artwork created at the beginning of treatment is angry in nature.
As participants progress in their recovery, there is generally a clear difference in the type of imagery used in their art. The mood of their creations tends to be happier as the participants become more sure of themselves and comfortable in their recovery journey.
Art therapy makes it easier for a therapist to identify participants who are not making this expected progress so that they can make the appropriate adjustments to those individuals’ therapy plans.
Art therapy offers multiple benefits for people in addiction treatment. These include but are not limited to stress relief, self-discovery, emotional release and empowerment. Each of these positive effects can help participants progress in their recovery and avoid the temptation to slide back into substance use.
While art therapy is not intended to replace evidence-based addiction treatment techniques, it can serve as a valuable complement to an evidence-based treatment program. The emotional breakthroughs that participants experience during art therapy can play an important role in their long-term recovery.
Are you or a loved one interested in art therapy? Rehab After Work is ready to help you begin your creative healing journey. Schedule an appointment, call (610) 644-6464 to get started today.