Learn / 4 Ways Art Therapy Boosts Your Addiction Recovery

4 Ways Art Therapy Boosts Your Addiction Recovery

Kayla Gill
 May 18th, 2018|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Olivia Mueller

Key Points

  • Art therapy can effectively treat behavioral issues, including addiction.
  • It lets you access parts of yourself that other therapies don’t always reach.
  • Creative self-expression helps heal root causes of addiction.

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.

1. Art Therapy Is the Yin to Talk Therapy’s Yang

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.

2. Art Lets You Discover Yourself

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.

3. Creative Outlets Help Safeguard Against Relapse

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?

4. Art Makes You Feel Like a Kid Again—And That’s Great for Your Recovery

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.

For the Best Art Therapy, Go With a Luxury Rehab

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:

Professional Art Therapists

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.

Dedicated Art Facilities

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.

An Inspiring Setting

Marlize leading an art therapy session in the gardens at White River Manor in South Africa.

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.

Who Benefits From Art Therapy in Rehab?

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Art Therapy in Rehab

Can art therapy treat addiction?

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.

Does art therapy work for 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.

What activities help you stay sober?

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.

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