Art Therapy for Addiction and Mental Health Problems

Art therapy does not require you to have any artistic skill, and you do not need any experience to find art therapy helpful. The aim is not to produce a great work of art, instead art therapy is a creative journey that will enable you to express, explore, and resolve difficult memories and emotions.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy involves using expressive arts in a therapeutic environment with a trained therapist – art therapists often use a gentle and welcoming person-centred approach. The creative process of art therapy is led by your own visualisations. This process encourages the emergence of significant images and symbols from the unconscious, whilst at the same time being a playful process of free association.

Why Is It Useful?

During art therapy sessions, your therapist will guide you in creating, as a way of expressing your inner thoughts and feelings. Together you will explore and come to an understanding of your creation, and how it relates to your experiences, memories, and feelings. Art therapy is really helpful for many people in terms of exploring and resolving issues as part of a recovery programme.

Rehabs often take a multidisciplinary approach to rehab, with clinicians, counsellors and therapists complimenting each other’s approaches to provide a full programme that has something for everyone, this allows rehabs to be effective for as many people as possible. Art therapy can be a powerful process of discovery. The arts are a way of letting go and expressing in a safe and supportive setting aimed at facilitating healing.

Who can Benefit from It?

Art therapy has proven to be beneficial for a wide range of people. It has been part of successful therapeutic approaches in the treatment of those experiencing:

  • non-verbal conditions
  • trauma, grief/loss
  • addiction recovery
  • emotional regulation difficulties
  • mood disorders
  • personality disorders
  • both adults and children
  • those experiencing the effects of stroke.

Art therapy can be really useful for those who are experiencing overwhelming memories and feelings and who are finding it difficult to talk about those things. It can be particularly useful for those who do not respond to more traditional talking therapies.

Those Suffering With Addiction

Art therapy has been an effective part of addiction treatment since the 1950s. It provides the opportunity for a healthy and healing form of emotional release and self-expression. The Journal of Addictions nursing[i] states that art therapy contributes to the recovery process for addicts by:

  • Decreasing denial
  • Increasing motivation to change
  • Providing a safe way for regulating emotions
  • Healing shame

Art therapy compliments talking therapy and allows for a different kind of expression, one that suits many people.

According to Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, clients in recovery from addiction can use artistic activities to uncover the feelings of guilt, unmanageability, or shame that led them to using and the need for addiction rehab.

Those Suffering From Mental Health Problems

Language is not always the most effective way to convey the emotions associated with mental health problems. Art therapy uses creative activity as a form of nonverbal communication.

Art therapy is a powerful complement to more traditional talking therapies, it can give you an alternative, and sometimes more effective, way to describe and communicate your feelings. Once these feelings have been released on the page, the art can be discussed with the therapist and with peers in a group or individual counselling setting.

The Art Therapy Association states that this treatment modality can help to resolve emotional difficulties in numerous ways, by:

  • Promoting emotional release
  • Resolving painful emotions
  • Externalizing traumatic memories
  • Reducing behaviors that interfere with daily functioning
  • Encouraging healthy, fulfilling behaviors
  • Restoring self-esteem

 

Is It Effective?

The American Art Therapy Association [ii] (AATA), explains that art therapy is a therapeutic approach that can help the individual in a variety of important ways:

  • Enabling emotional regulation
  • Building self-esteem
  • Building self-awareness
  • Reducing anxiety

 

Like other therapeutic approaches, one of the main purposes of art therapy is enable you to reach your full potential, emotionally, cognitively, and socially.

Art can be particularly effective as therapy for those who have experienced trauma. Memories and experiences that seem too overwhelming to confront directly can be explored through the creative expression. This enables the release of tension in a safe environment.

Art therapy has long been known to be effective in the treatment of those experiencing addiction[iii] A study of art therapy in addiction recovery programmes in the Journal of Addictions Nursing[iv] found that 37 percent of rehab programmes offer art therapy. Research done by the Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association[v] concludes that art therapy is very effective overcoming resistance and ambivalence toward addiction treatment.

 You don’t have to face your addiction alone. Don’t delay, take action today!

 

Citations

[i] Aletraris L, Paino M, Edmond MB, Roman PM https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268880/, Bride BE. The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Journal of addictions nursing. 2014;25(4):190-196. doi:10.1097/JAN.0000000000000048.

[ii] Horay, Brian https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ776998.pdf Horay, Brian. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 23(1) pp. 14-22 © AATA, Inc. 2006

[iii] Harms, E. (1973). Art therapy for the drug addict. Art Psychotherapy, 1(1), 55-59.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0090-9092(73)90009-4

[iv] https://www.arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf © American Art Therapy Association 2013

[v] Harms, E. http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1977-11080-001 (1973). Art therapy for the drug addict. Art Psychotherapy, 1(1), 55-59.

 

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