Art Therapy and Substance Abuse

Art Therapy and Substance Abuse

art therapy and substance abuse



Have you ever noticed how much listening to music on a drive home relaxes you after a long day?

Maybe you’ve even felt the sensation of being taken to another place when drawing!

It’s possible you’ve experienced the therapeutic benefits of art.  


What is art therapy?

There are many types of therapy modules used by mental health professionals in treating individuals with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Art therapy is one of them and is used as a means of expression through creativity to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.  The American Art Therapy Association defines it as the therapeutic use of art making within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living and by people who seek personal development.


Art can be used in various therapeutic ways. Creating art in itself can be therapeutic and it can additionally be used as a tool in “art psychotherapy”. Art Psychotherapy uses the creative process to find symbolism and understanding of emotions and experiences.


Art therapy does necessarily mean just painting and drawing. It can include other mediums of art like music, dance, drama and play, ceramics, sculpting, writing, etc.


History of art therapy: who started it, when and how

Art has been used since the beginning of human history as a medium for communicating and a tool to connect with others. It has been used by virtue of group interactions, conflict resolution, diagnosis and self expression.  Art therapy can be traced back to the 1800’s however in the 1940’s it was defined as a therapeutic discipline.


Where does art therapy take place?

Creating art can be done anywhere and anytime however art psychotherapy usually takes place in hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practices, and other clinical and community settings.

What is art therapy used for and how is it used in substance abuse disorder treatment?


Although art therapy is generally used as treatment for something- i.e. negative emotional state/ mental well-being- it can also be used for general stress, tension and self discovery.  Even coloring has many benefits!


Because creating art is often times a nonverbal process, it can not only help individuals explore emotions but is also help communicate feelings or experiences that one may not feel comfortable talking about in regular conversation.


Other benefits include personal development, increased coping skills, enhanced cognitive functioning, exploration and understanding of feelings, reconciliation of emotional conflicts, increased self esteem, and improvement in reality orientation.


Art therapy is specifically very beneficial to those in treatment for substance abuse disorder. It can help individuals work through the experiences, emotions and issues that have led to or worsened addiction. Art therapy has been used in substance abuse treatment since the 1950’s. There are many studies that show that using art therapy in substance abuse treatment centers enhance recovery. One study even showed that art therapy can help overcome ambivalence about recovery from substance abuse disorder. Art therapy can contribute to substance abuse recovery by decreasing the client’s denial of addiction, increasing the client’s motivation to change, providing a safe outlet for emotions and lessening the shame of addiction.


Substance abuse disorder is most successful when combined in addition to art therapy with other recovery services, such as detox, individual therapy, support groups, and family counseling.


What does an art therapy session look like?


The first thing to understand when participating in art therapy is that you do not need to be a good artist. You don’t need to make something pretty or nice, in fact, more meaningful things arise from some of the ugliest pieces.


For beginners, an art therapist may start out by having the individual or group create a magazine photo collage. The art therapist may give you a specific prompt when deciding on which images to pick. For example, you may be picking images that remind you of a certain relationship and as you are doing that the art therapist is helping if needed, offering their full attention to the clients, asking open ended questions and sharing their own observations. While discussing and viewing the finished piece, you may develop a different perspective on your problem. For example, you may find yourself focusing on a specific memory or event when talking about your piece or perhaps your made a different facial expression when looking at one of the images; this may lead you and the art therapist into another conversation and maybe to the root of the problem.

Professionals at Thrive Treatment Centers, understand the benefits that art therapy has to offer when in recovery for substance abuse. In addition to other therapy modules, Thrive Treatment Centers provide art therapy for clients on a regular basis.

The Last House Sober Living can provide a safe and sober living environment while attending Thrive Treatment.

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