Learn / 4 Ways Art Therapy Boosts Your Addiction Recovery
The first days at rehab can be kind of, well … awkward. You’re in a totally new environment, you’re surrounded by strangers and you’re not sure what to expect. And you have to begin the process of sorting through all the painful and confusing emotions you’ve been experiencing.
That’s where addiction-focused art therapy comes in. Far more than a hokey craft class, art therapy is a sophisticated component of addiction treatment that helps you create a safe space for self-expression, build trust with your treatment team and easily access parts of yourself that other forms of therapy can’t. And at world-class rehabs, art therapy programming is robust, comprehensive and delivered by consummate professionals who have extensive experience using art for therapeutic gain. All of which bodes very, very well for your recovery.
It’s not always easy to put a whirlwind of painful emotions into words. In fact, you may not even be consciously aware of everything you’re experiencing. Communicating visually, however, can be great for those who are having a hard time doing so verbally. And, you can access parts of your subconscious that conventional therapies like CBT don’t reach. During the creative process, things can come out that you’ve never thought of before—meaning huge breakthrough opportunities for you.
“Art therapy works more quickly than talk therapy and a lot of healing happens. It’s exciting to watch a person be vulnerable and be safe in that. I ask questions; I don’t interpret. There is no fear of being analyzed or judged as being a terrible artist,” says one art therapist.
Art therapists provide a safe space for people in recovery to express themselves:1 they provide direction and facilitate the process between you and your art. When you make progress in the studio, you begin to reconnect with your sense of self-worth, and form connections with your counselors. This makes your entire treatment experience more effective and enjoyable.
Because it reaches down to a subconscious level, art therapy can help you uncover the root cause of your addiction. While addiction distorts reality,2 leading us to have a skewed perception of ourselves and those around us, art therapy provides a conduit for self-reflection that ultimately leads to a better, more accurate sense of self.
With each project you complete, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that boosts your progress both in the studio and outside of it. You’ll be able to take that newfound confidence into all other aspects of your treatment—and your life.
There’s an added benefit to all that creative skill-building: you can bring it with you into recovery. A huge part of staying sober is developing healthy ways to deal with the things that used to trigger you to use substances, and creativity is an excellent way to channel uncomfortable emotions into something positive. Using the creative process as a coping mechanism gives you new insight, improves your judgment and helps you deal with stress and process trauma.
Since boredom is one of the most common addiction relapse triggers,3 it’s important to fill the time you used to spend using substances with activities you find fun and interesting. What better way to do that than by turning the skills you picked up into a new hobby?
Getting your hands dirty, pushing paint around a canvas and engaging your sense of wonder unlocks your inner child—a vital connection point for staying in touch with your true self. Art is proven to relieve stress4 by processing emotions and focusing your attention on the beauty around you, all of which results in a happier you! You may even discover a talent or passion you never knew you had.
Not all art therapy programs are created equal. If you’re looking for a rehab center that offers art therapy as a core component of your addiction treatment, your best bet is to go with a luxury rehab. World-class rehabs often offer much more robust specialty programming, with the staff, environment and resources necessary to create the best experience possible.
Look for a rehab that has:
Many art therapists at luxury rehabs hold advanced degrees in art therapy and have extensive experience using art to work through addiction, trauma and mental health disorders. Duffy’s Rehab in Napa Valley staffs a qualified, registered art therapist who are experienced in working with people of all ages and with a wide range of difficulties and diagnoses. The Cabin Chiang Mai’s art therapists integrate art therapy with evidence-based practices for a comprehensive, holistic approach to addiction treatment.
At a luxury rehab, you’ll have every material imaginable at your disposal: pens, pencils, pastels, crayons, paints, plaster of Paris, clay, canvas and paper in all shapes and sizes. You’re not limited in your mediums, and neither is your expression. You can work in whatever feels comfortable and right for you.
Premium rehabs are often set in secluded, naturally beautiful locations—and there’s nothing like connecting with serene natural beauty to let you relax into your environment and get your creative juices flowing. White River Manor’s art studio is housed in a spacious lodge with large doors open onto their 100-year-old garden, the space filled with birdsong, soothing music, aromatherapy candles and paintings, masks and other artworks done by their residents, who may even choose to paint on their walls.
“I don’t think I will be able to do this kind of work in an office environment … because the beauty of the garden actually lends itself to the process of art therapy,” says White River Manor’s art therapist, Marlize van der Merwe.
In short, everyone. Art therapy is effective in treating a plethora of behavioral issues including addiction, anxiety, depression and trauma. And no, you don’t have to be artistically inclined to reap its benefits. You only have to show up with an open mind, and see where the process takes you.
Ready to start your creative recovery journey? See our list of premium rehabs offering art therapy.
Cover photo: A scene from the art studio at McLean Borden Cottage, a luxury rehab in Maine
Yes. Art therapy allows for self-discovery and helps you access parts of your subconscious that conventional therapies might not reach. This can treat behavioral issues, like addiction.
Yes. Art therapy helps uncover and heal root causes of addiction. While addiction distorts reality, creative self-expression is grounding and promotes self-reflection. This can lead to a more accurate sense of self.
Art is a healthy way to relieve stress and process trauma. Since boredom is a common relapse trigger, finding a healthy coping mechanism like art helps you channel emotions into something positive.
Coyle, S. (n.d.). Creative Arts Therapies in SUD Recovery—Expressing Emotions Beyond Words. Social Work Today , 20(4), 16. https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/0720p16.shtml
Yan, F., Costello, M., & Allen, J. (2020). Self-perception and relative increases in substance use problems in early adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues, 50(4), 538–549. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022042620941812
The 4 most common causes of addiction relapse. (2011, October 2). HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dispositions-of-relapse_b_988137
Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making. Art Therapy, 33(2), 74–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832
London, like many other cosmopolitan areas, is full of diversity and culture. The many languages, ethnicities, and nationalities found here lend the city a unique and lively feel. History seeps from every cobblestone corner, and bright red double-decker buses whiz past famous landmarks like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. While a busy city may sound … Continue reading “Innovative Therapies and Immediate Care: Why Go to Private Rehab in London”
Lush surroundings, cost-effective treatment, and quality care: these are just a few of the advantages of luxury rehabs in Malaysia. Treatment facilities here can help you heal from the inside out. And with plenty of interesting activities, holistic treatments, and personalized programs available, Malaysia is the perfect backdrop for many people’s recovery journeys. We’ll explore … Continue reading “Affordable Luxury Care in the Tropics: 7 Reasons to Consider Rehab in Malaysia”
We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.