How Art Therapy’s Freedom of Expression Helps Addiction Recovery

Home / NorthStar Transitions Sober Living Blog / How Art Therapy’s Freedom of Expression Helps Addiction Recovery

Art therapy was first used in the 1950s as part of the holistic therapy approach. It is a type of non-confrontational experiential therapy used in short and long term treatments. It is also considered to be a form of psychotherapy. A background in the arts is not necessary to participate in this kind of therapy. An individual must only be open to the experience and the benefits it can provide them.

It is used together with other addiction treatments that allow a person to use their imagination and creativity to make art that expresses themselves in a healthy and productive way. It can aid in diagnosis and help individuals undergoing therapy to express themselves in a way that verbal language may not allow them.

Art therapy is helpful for individuals who have co-occurring mental health issues associated with their addiction. This can include physical, mental, or psychological abuse. Clients can explore their thoughts and emotions in order to understand and resolve them. This all happens in a non-verbal manner of communication, because the person may feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings and experiences in a regular verbal conversation.

Common types of art therapy include painting, drawing, sculpting, acting, dancing, poetry, and music.

What Is Experiential Therapy?

As stated above, art therapy is a form of experiential therapy to aid addiction recovery and mental health treatment. Experiential therapy is a therapeutic technique that helps patients use expressive tools to engage in activities that re-enact situations from their past and present relationships. This can include role-playing, music, props, and art.

Experiential therapy helps clients recognize their emotions that influence their successes, disappointments, responsibilities, and self-esteem. By using these methods, patients evaluate and release the various negative emotions, thoughts, stressors, and shame associated with situations they may be subconsciously blocking out or denying. Art therapy is a tool used to aid in this that does not include verbal language.

Three Techniques Used in Art Therapy

Gestalt Methods

With this method, the therapist aids the client in working out their inner thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences. The artwork is used as a stepping stone to a deeper conversation. It can also be used as an explanatory tool for a person to explain what they are thinking or feeling as they describe the artwork from the artwork’s point of view.

Active Imagination

Here, the active imagination method uses the artwork as a basis to let the individual’s mind roam into “spontaneous free associations.” This helps to encourage the analysis and discussion of the person’s feelings, thoughts, etc.

“Third-Hand” Approach

The therapist helps the person with the overall process in this method. However, the patient is still in control of the artistic vision of the project.

The First Step Series: A Standard Art Therapy Approach

These different art projects are used to help clients in recovery by making specific situations out of different mediums.

Crisis Directive

The client is instructed to do a drawing that describes the current situation or event that led them to begin the recovery process.

Recovery Bridge Drawing

The client is instructed to make a drawing that describes where they were in the past at the beginning of a bridge, where they are now on the bridge, and where they are at the end of the bridge to depict where they want to be in their life and in their recovery.

Cost-Benefits Collage

This is a collage made by the client to show the benefits of staying sober.

Future Depiction

Here the client will show themselves in the future as a person living a sober life. They are also asked to depict a future in which they do not remain sober.

Barriers Imagery

The client is asked to depict the stressors, factors, and issues that could potentially keep a person from staying sober.

What Are the Benefits of Art Therapy?

Art therapy has numerous benefits for those going through addiction and mental health recovery. According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), art therapy helps individuals:

  • Resolve emotional conflicts
  • Boost self-esteem and confidence
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Develop social skills
  • Promote self-awareness

According to Michigan State University, art therapy can help individuals:

  • Reduce pain
  • Alleviate symptoms of stress
  • Stimulate mental functions
  • Reduce symptoms of depression
  • Improve one’s quality of life

How Does Art Therapy Help Addiction?

Art therapy helps give recovering addicts a manner in which to express themselves. This helps them further understand their inner thoughts and feelings as well as help them cope with their addiction. The person can practice introspection and healthy coping skills throughout the art therapy process.

Recovering addicts are also able to explore certain areas of their life through the artistic process that they may otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing in a verbal conversation. In group settings, people going through addiction treatment together are able to create a fellowship and become closer to one another. This happens as they begin to better understand and relate to each other.

Art therapy is a form of experiential therapy that allows individuals to become aware of and analyze certain emotions and thoughts related to underlying memories that they may be blocking out or denying. Art therapy allows a certain freedom of expression to do this, specifically because it does not require verbal language. Thus, clients are able to express themselves more comfortably. Certain techniques and methods are used to help clients understand life in recovery versus life without sobriety. Art therapy helps aid in making diagnoses as well. NorthStar Transitions utilizes art therapy alongside other evidence-based addiction treatments to give their clients the best chance at long term recovery. Contact them today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more about their treatment programs and holistic approach to addiction recovery.


close