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Depression & Mental Health Blog
June 13, 2016
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What Is Art Therapy?

Exploring a person's thoughts and feelings about their lives, substance abuse and recovery is an important aspect of addiction therapy. However, it's not always easy to express these in words. When this is the case, art therapy has been shown to help.

Artistic Processes as a Form of Therapy

Art therapy is the use of artistic expression, such as painting, drawing, sculpting or other artistic mediums, to enhance the recovery process. Art therapy can be a therapeutic and stress-relieving approach to recovery, which is a stressful period. Art therapy is based on the idea that the process of art creation itself is therapeutic.

Art is also a form of psychotherapy. This means that a person can use art as a means of communicating feelings and emotions without having to say them out loud. The symbolic communication of art is an enhancement to the communication process between the client and the therapist.

Therapists can use art therapy through a variety of mediums and settings. Sometimes art therapists may work with a person in a one-on-one setting while others may use group therapies to produce artwork. Other examples of art therapies include drumming, poetry and drama.

Research Regarding Art Therapy and Recovery

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing found that more than 35 percent of addiction treatment programs in the United States incorporate art therapy. The research study found that women and adolescents were especially likely to respond positively to art therapy programs while in recovery. The study also found that 12-step programs were more effective when paired with art and/or music therapies.

While there isn't a significant amount of research available regarding art therapy and recovery, many clients tell stories of benefiting from art therapy and artistic expression. People who participate in these programs report enhanced self-esteem and confidence.

Art Therapy Benefits for Those in Recovery

During an art therapy session, a therapist may lead clients through creative projects as a means to help them express aspects of their recovery process that might be too emotionally overwhelming to verbalize.

Examples of thoughts and feelings a person may express include:

  • • Emotions about a person's recovery process
  • • Fears
  • • Feelings regarding loss
  • • Feelings regarding a person's support system or significant other
  • • Higher power

Through art therapy, clients in recovery are able to express thoughts and emotions they may not feel comfortable saying out loud. Art therapy can be a way for a person to find his or her voice in the noise of the therapeutic process. In this way, a person can continue his or her recovery.

Some art therapists may use art projects that incorporate aspects of other therapies, such as the 12 steps. An example could include step 8, which involves making a list of people you have harmed and being willing to make amends. An art therapy project could involve breaking a colorful plate and using the broken pieces to adorn a mirror. This can signify that out of brokenness, a person can put together all the little pieces and make something beautiful and whole.

Art therapy doesn't require tremendous, or even any, artistic talent or skill. Instead, it's meant to help a person find another way to relieve stress and express complex emotions in a new way.