Art Therapy: Tools for Addiction Treatment and Recovery

Throughout the world, millions of people struggle with a substance use disorder. Thankfully, times are not as difficult for people as they used to be, and a wide array of therapies are available to help them get the help they need and deserve. Therapy options are continually evolving, and more data shows that treatments that would have once been previously dismissed are highly effective. One such example is Art Therapy.

What is Art Therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, Art Therapy is the use of “art-making” and creative processes used in a wholistic manner as part of an effort to help a person’s mental, psychological, and spiritual growth. It should not be confused with merely splashing some paint on a piece of paper. This process is used as part of a comprehensive effort to help an individual heal from trauma, recover from addiction, or address many mental health issues. Furthermore, it is very different than normal artistic classes or efforts. The process is led by a trained individual who has a background in both art and some form of mental health training.

The broadness of this definition allows for any number of forms of art therapy to apply. Painting, drawing, or sculpting can all be considered as art therapy. The issues addressed with art therapy are wide-ranging, engage a variety of senses, and can be part of an overall rehabilitation program. Indeed, the integrative nature of art therapy is one of the best aspects of this therapy method, as art therapy can be an ideal complement to any number of healing modalities.

It must be noted that art therapy is a real area of work that requires professional credentialing. As noted by the American Art Therapy Association, individuals looking to practice in art therapy will require 18-months to two years of education. These educational components involve education in art therapy, therapeutic techniques, assessment, cultural diversity, and more.

History of Art Therapy

Art Therapy is relatively new within the therapy world. Of course, various forms of art had long been considered a crucial method of self-expression and healing, but it was only in the 1940s that people began to examine it in a more structured and therapeutic manner.

The term “art therapy” was first used by Adrian Hill, an English citizen who experienced numerous benefits while painting and recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. Hill and others began to use this term to describe art’s therapeutic benefits. At that time, efforts began to educate mental health professionals about the various positives of art therapy and encourage them to incorporate art into their work.

As time marched on, the field evolved, and more formalized guidelines began to appear for how art could be utilized for therapeutic purposes. Today, it is a recognized treatment or many mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, and more.

Types of Art Therapy

Art Therapy must be understood as being more than just one large, monolithic entity. Indeed, there are many types of art therapies, and all depend on the individual, their preference, and their therapist’s experience. Examples of art therapy include painting, using clay, carving, and more. Some have also found relief from specific forms of therapy that involve music, writing, or poetry.

Regardless of the type of therapy, the goal is the same. In using art, patients can find a way to express their feelings and dig deep into their experiences and illnesses that they could not otherwise describe in everyday conversation.

Studies have shown that art therapy can help patients and their therapists better understand their issues and trauma. In so doing, patients can further understand their motivations, thoughts, and feelings, working with the art to process their experiences. This can be done in various ways and depending on the medium. Still, the use of color, design, shape, and spatial awareness can help people get a better interpretation and understanding of what ails them.

The Role of Art Therapy in Trauma Therapy

One of the best potential uses of Art Therapy has been to treat trauma and specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs after a traumatic experience, such as an attack, military battle, or sexual assault. An individual will have problems processing a traumatic experience and replay it in their mind repeatedly, leading to uncontrollable flashbacks, anxiety, and depression.

As noted above, one of Art Therapy’s primary benefits is it allows people to express their pain and grief in a way that words cannot capture. This can be particularly useful for a traumatic experience, as people often lack the vocabulary to describe what happened to them and how a traumatic event made them feel.

This can be exceptionally powerful for coping with a traumatic experience. One of the primary issues with PTSD is that a person has yet to process and accept what happened to them. As such, Art Therapy can help guide a person through their specific trauma, allowing them to find peace. It can also help a person find emotions for the feelings that they experienced. These emotions can then be dealt with in a therapeutic setting.

There are also biomechanical reasons for this, and it has to do with the set-up of our brains. As noted by experts, art is an activity that is based on the right side of your brain, along with memories and traumatic memories. Unfortunately, for many, speech is located on the left side of our brains. As such, art can help someone access their traumatic experiences and express them in an easier way.

How Does Art Therapy Support Substance Abuse Treatment?

Art Therapy can be very powerful when it comes to substance abuse treatment.

According to one review, 36.8% of treatment programs offer art therapy, while another 14.7% offer music therapy. It seems clear that these numbers are growing and will continue to grow as Art Therapy becomes more widely accepted.

Art Therapy can help individuals who are addicted to certain substances recover. Not only does it help individuals process their emotions and experiences, but it can help turn a negative experience into a positive one, utilizing self-expression and creativity. When given specific prompts, individuals can use art to express their feelings and describe their emotions. Under the guidance of a therapist, people can use art to express certain emotions.

Art therapy can also be particularly useful for people who have underlying traumas or negative experiences that are associated with substance abuse, even if the one is not fully aware of what these experiences are and how to deal with them. As noted above, Art Therapy can help someone identify these experiences.

What Happens During an Art Therapy Session?

This is a difficult question to answer. As you can tell, there are numerous types and versions of Art Therapy. However, there are some similarities between all sessions.

All Art Therapy sessions will begin with an initial assessment and conversation. A therapist will introduce themselves to a patient, and the two will start to discuss the patient’s goals, experiences, and what they are looking to gain from the art therapy. Information will be collected, and a therapist will strive to build a connection with a client.

Art-making will usually begin after that. The type of art will depend on the preference of the client and the experience of the therapist. A variety of considerations will go into the art, including the medium of art, what sort of prompt will be made for art creation, and whether the therapist will be involved in directing the art. The client will then begin the artistic work.

Upon conclusion of the art-making, the therapist and client will discuss feelings, experiences, and observation of the art itself. Questions will be raised by the therapist, asking what sort of emotions the art helped bring up and discuss memories and overall experiences while making the art. The questions will be guided, and both the therapist and client will explore all sensations that the art helped create.

Benefits of Art Therapy In Addiction Treatment

There are many potential benefits of Art Therapy when it comes to addiction treatment.

First, Art Therapy can help someone better understand a traumatic experience that they have undergone. This trauma may be at the root of someone’s addiction, even if they haven’t realized it. There is a close connection between art and hidden memories, and the use of art can help someone identify feelings and experiences that they didn’t know existed.

Second, it is worth remembering that art can help someone express their experiences that they didn’t realize they had processed. Once the art has been created, a person can use it as a starting point for further conversation and processing.

Art Therapy can also be exceptionally useful for individuals who had previously tried other forms of therapy but ultimately found that therapy ineffective. Art Therapy is different because it involves incorporating different parts of the brain. As such, this type of therapy can help people who have not been successful at recovering from their substance abuse problems.

It is important to remember that art therapy is one of the many ways individuals can receive the treatment they desperately need. If you are in pain or addicted to a substance, keep in mind that there are so, so many types of therapy out there that can help you address your issues and live the life you deserve. Don’t wait and suffer another moment – call today for help.

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