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art therapy in addiction recovery

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Art Therapy: A Therapeutic Tool for Addiction Recovery

Table of Contents

As our understanding of addiction expands we learn more and more the importance of using creative expression to overcome addiction.  A long time ago addiction was viewed as a moral breakdown and a sign of a weak-willed person. They would often admit those stuck in addiction to an asylum where they would be locked in a room to “get over” their addiction. This often resulted in death, insanity and most often a total relapse when they were finally released.

In modern times we realize that addiction is a legitimate disease, that regardless of how you want to label it, seriously impacts the mental, physical, and emotional well being of those affected by it. Emotional trauma often accompanies addiction, and even after one becomes sober, unresolved emotional distress can still remain. 

Those who suffer from addiction are often intelligent and creative individuals, capable of beautiful things when their energy is channeled in the right direction. Creative processing activates parts of the mind that may have been suppressed by substance abuse and/or physical or emotional trauma. Art therapy and creative expression can help unlock new thought processes that help create a framework of understanding and viewing situations,  helping to resolve an emotional conflict. 

Creative expression as a therapeutic tool for addiction recovery allows an individual to express themselves more openly, but it greatly aids the rehabilitation process by encouraging emotional filtering and boosting self-esteem. Many people are suggesting art therapy for substance abuse. Through working with these art forms, it may surface new emotions and triggers that will lead to a deeper understanding of one’s addiction. We will only discuss a few of the more common forms of creativity therapy, but keep in mind there are numerous ways for one to express themselves creatively.

Art Therapy For Recovery Ideas

Creative Writing or journaling as a form of therapy can be an incredibly beneficial way of purging emotions. Keeping a journal, for example, is strongly encouraged and is a way to clear one’s thoughts and emotional stress in a way that no one has to see. Besides journaling, there is poetry which takes a bit more of an artistic approach and can be just as cleansing. 

Writing is often seen as a more structured form of art, but abstract writing as a legitimate art form has been gaining popularity. Short stories, books, poetry, and journaling are just a few options available to those who find writing as an attractive art form. Writing can help keep our mind from fixating on our struggles with addiction and can be an excellent tool to keep inventory of the recovery process, to track progress, and set goals for the future. Keeping a daily journaling can be an excellent tool for addiction recovery as well as an opportunity for creative expression.

Music therapy is one of the most popular methods and is becoming widely used in recovery centers. People build such a strong emotional bond with music, whether it is playing, singing or just listening to music. It has been scientifically proven to have a strong impact on the mind and emotions. It reaches parts of the mind that are strongly associated with healing on an emotional and cognitive level. 

Music encourages positive emotions, increased self-esteem, increased focus, and increased relaxation. Art therapy, in general, has been viewed as a holistic and alternative approach to addiction recovery, but music has been making a bigger mainstream splash lately. This splash is not just in the addiction recovery field, it is also showing promising benefits in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and depression. Music can be an excellent tool for calming the mind providing a way to manage stress.

Art therapy encompasses a variety of practices that are beneficial for those in rehabilitation. The beauty of art therapy exists in various forms. It can be clay molding, painting, drawing, sculpting, carving, and the list goes on. There are a thousand ways to make visual art and each form can provide a fun and engaging form of therapy. Whether it is abstract or not makes no difference here. 

Letting one’s emotions flow through creative expression and art therapy is an incredible way to release emotional tension and can provide an effective tool for addiction recovery by reframing thought patterns, breaking rigid negative beliefs, helping to change the way we view a situation or our existence.  The most beneficial part is the process is creating the art, even more so than the finished product. The process of creating art is where the filtering and healing happens, while the final product can boost confidence and build pride.

Physical Art is meant to reference options such as creative dance. Exercise is already an effective way to aid addiction recovery, and dance therapy takes art expression and combines it with physical movement. These two together can make for a great tool to improve mood, increase focus and aide creative rehabilitation. A combination of emotional expression through the art of dance, as well as the release of hormones from physical activity, can increase healing on a physical, mental and emotional level.

Using Art Therapy To Treat Addiction

There are more ways than I list here for one to express themselves since “art” is a broad term and can be used to describe all manner of expression. In the end, it is up to the individual to find what manner of self-expression benefits them or fits their character. It is strongly encouraged that one seeks professional help first and then works with that professional to find an art form that fits them best. 

It is also encouraged that one experience multiple forms of creative expression to see which one best resonates with them. You don’t have to be a great artist or musician to enjoy some form of creative expression and simply finding a way to express yourself can be incredibly therapeutic no matter how it’s accomplished. Express yourself! Looking for a outpatient treatment program? NuView Treatment Center is one of the best outpatient rehab center in Los Angeles. Call us today!

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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