Art Therapy as a powerful tool in treating addiction
Problems with Traditional Addiction Therapy
When it comes to addiction treatment, not all methods work for every person. Traditional treatment modalities focus on residential treatment, group therapy, dual diagnosis therapy, and outpatient treatment. The problem with this is that these forms of treatment are temporary and short term, while addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, requiring ongoing treatment in order to maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle. This involves the development of coping skills, non addictive behaviors, and healthy lifestyle habits. By allowing patients to engage in holistic therapies, such as art, new habits and coping techniques can be introduced to patients to promote a healthy, sober lifestyle, as well as alternative methods of coping with emotions that are bound to arise in sobriety.
My Experience with Art Therapy
When I went to treatment, I struggled with formulating my thoughts and emotions into words. I was scared of judgement from others and honestly, I didn’t really know how I felt in the beginning. My brain was in such a fog as the drugs were leaving my body that I was more like a robot going through the motions of rehab without applying any feeling behind it. Fortunately, the treatment center I was at had weekly art therapy sessions, which provided me with a creative outlet to let my inhibitions down and begin to heal.
I was never really good at art, but doing art therapy allowed me to explore my thoughts and emotions which were held under the surface that I wasn’t able to articulate at the time. Art became more of an emotional expression for me, allowing my thoughts and emotions to be embraced through creative art work. Sometimes, I used dark colors if I was anxious or upset, and on days that I felt good my art work looked brighter. I explored different mediums, using paint, chalk, and even paper mache.
One approach that I enjoyed the most, was an art session that was prefaced by a guided meditation. In this meditation, I was told to descend down 12 porcelain steps into a green valley. I was then instructed to walk through the valley to a private, sacred place. This place could be whatever I wanted it to be – a beach, a forest, a cave, it didn’t matter, as long as it was a place where I could relax and feel at peace. At the end of the meditation, upon opening my eyes, I was told to draw this place to the best of my ability.
By making this imaginary place of sanctuary into a work of art, this place became somewhat real to me. Whenever I felt distressed or upset, I could revert back to this imaginary place of peace and quiet. This became an important coping mechanism for me in recovery as it allowed me to slow my thoughts and regain control of situations that were difficult.
Art therapy provided me with an opportunity to explore self representation in a new, creative way. It opened up the door of communication between my therapist and I, so that she could see my development and personality in a clearer light. She could easily interpret how my art represented thoughts, feelings, and obstacles I was facing in my recovery, without making me feel worry or concern about judgement.
Art Therapy and Addiction
Some benefits of art therapy in substance use disorder treatment include a reduction in opposition to treatment, a creative approach to communication, and giving clients motivation to change their behaviors. Art therapy promotes feelings of release and relaxation, making patients feel more in control of their own recovery and treatment.
In addition, research suggests that art therapy has the ability to teach patients healthy self-soothing techniques which can increase one’s self image and self awareness. This can give patients the strength needed to work through obstacles they have faced in the past or will face in the future. Like the drawing of my sacred place, patients are given a way to practice self care and cope with their emotions without the use of mood or mind altering substances.
Though it is not suggested for patients with substance use disorder to engage in solely art therapy alone, it has been proven to have positive results when used dually with traditional therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dual diagnosis group therapy. Afterall, if treatment was purely science based, there would be less attraction to those who need help to seek treatment. The availability of creative outlets and activities can be a draw to those who have negative conceptions of traditional therapy techniques.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.