If you’ve never tried it, art therapy may sound like nothing more than a hippy-dippy way of seeking self-improvement. But in fact, art therapy is a diverse therapeutic method that can be helpful for folks of any age, sex, class, race, or background as a way to guide self-exploration and self-soothing.
Art therapy is a tried and trusted technique used in addiction recovery and detox programs. It doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach; instead, it can be adapted to meet the unique therapeutic needs of the individual.
Why Art Therapy?
Whether you’re seeking detox programs and addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, art therapy may be a helpful technique to encourage self-exploration, self-understanding, and recovery. The methods used in art therapy are diverse and flexible; they continuously expand and evolve with our changing society through different technologies and fluid patterns of thought. One method may be unhelpful, while another is transformative.
If you have been or are ever asked to participate in some form of art therapy that doesn’t strike you as poignant or useful for your treatment or self-exploration, there’s no reason to discard the practice as a whole. Instead, try to think of this as an opportunity to explore other art that may be helpful to you in your journey and recovery.
How Art Therapy Can Help in Healing
Before we dive into the vast and varied sea of art therapy and its benefits in substance abuse treatment, we must first explore a broad, competent definition of the practice and what its purported goals are for those who participate in it. The American Art Therapy Association uses the following definition:
“Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”
From this definition, we can begin to consider art therapy not just as a method used in self-exploration, but as a way to understand and unravel the ways in which the individual connects to their society and visa versa.
Outside of its many uses in psychotherapy, art therapy has also been employed successfully in the field of community building. There is no better example than public murals. These wall-sized art installations often reflect the prominent values of the neighborhoods they’re erected in and take several months to complete, which invites members of the community to communicate with the mural artists and provide their unique, local input. Murals run the gamut from being uplifting portraits of influential people from the city to critiques of the city’s history. They may also act as artistic representations of a community’s hopes or vision for their city’s future.
By creating these works of art in public, a kind of community therapy is taking place; after years of being pushed out and discarded, minority groups have been given a form of agency and artistic immortality in the neighborhoods they call home. Even though murals are often considered to be a public good, erected solely for their creative beauty, their creation and presence in a community can also act as a way for people to begin to reconnect with the place they live, thus encouraging community members to foster relationships with their larger surroundings.
Art Therapy for Personal Understanding and Recovery
Just as art therapy can help members of a community begin to heal and reconnect with their society, it can also be used to help individuals struggling with substance abuse and dependency begin to reconnect with themselves and understand their emotions and lives more deeply.
As discussed earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to art therapy, although it always maintains the goal of helping those who participate in it. Art therapy for addiction treatment, and as a therapeutic treatment in general, gives us the opportunity to express our biggest fears and highest goals in a non-verbal manner. This allows us to more directly connect with and understand our emotional turmoil and coping mechanisms.
An easy example of this would be an art therapist asking her client to draw a picture of what causes them anxiety in their lives, and then asking them to draw a picture of what in their lives helps them feel relaxed. After these two drawings are completed, the therapist would then ask the client to compare and contrast the two drawings, asking them to consider the differences/similarities in color composition, the shape of the figures, and how blank space is utilized in the drawing.
The conversation that emerges from this exercise can lead the client down many winding paths that aid in exploring the nature of their anxiety and how to cope with their unpleasant feelings. This is the kind of exploration and examination that leads to long-term recovery.
Consider Trying Art Therapy as Part of Your Treatment
Art therapy is not for everyone, but for most people, it’s worth a shot. Often, recovering individuals have a difficult time breaching certain traumatic events in their life through verbal communication. Art therapy is a medium that requires no words and allows you to explore your emotions outside the confines of logic.
Even if art therapy seems too esoteric and “out there” for you, consider trying it at least once in your life. There are limited ways to describe emotions through language, but there are endless ways you may be able to express yourself through art. Who knows; you may even leave yourself speechless.
Choose the Path to Recovery
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or dependency, you’re not alone and help is available. Art therapy is just one of the many treatment methods that can help lead you to a better, more full life. Pacific Crest Trail Detox offers the highest level of care and safety in a comfortable environment while you start your journey to recovery from chemical dependency.