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Art Therapy in Addiction Treatment

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Expressive Therapy

There are a number of different expressive therapy branches, which are essentially the therapeutic applications of different art forms. Art therapy, music therapy, therapeutic poetry and writing, and drama therapy are the main ones.

Expressive therapy focuses on giving clients the tools to express themselves creatively. Art therapy is one of the most common branches of expressive therapy and is often utilized in addiction treatment.

And, as Bob Ross would say… Every day is a good day when you paint:

Benefits of Art Therapy

Art therapy engages the creative part of the mind, which is more intuitive and emotional. Clients are encouraged to be brave, honest, open, and genuine through playful assignments. Clients are give the tools and space to express themselves creatively.

The expression of emotions can be difficult and perplexing, because emotions are often illogical. We often don’t understand how we are feeling ourselves, so trying to explain or express this is challenging. Art offers an abstract medium for expression for these complicated feelings.

This opens the door for intuitive expression, which does not require logic or a detailed understanding of how you feel. Instead, feelings are expressed through image, color, shape, and texture.

Being able to express yourself will help you to feel liberated from negative emotions, like Calvin here:

Why Art Therapy for Addiction

Addiction is an especially conflicted experience. The very nature of addiction defies logic, because it is the compulsion to use a substance that is bad for you regardless of negative consequences. Someone in active addiction knows that they are doing something that is bad for themselves and those around them. Yet, they still feel compelled to continue using drugs or alcohol.

This has to do with how the brain responds to addictive substances once psychological and physical dependence form. As a result of this discord between what a person knows to be true about using drugs or alcohol and their compulsion to use, addiction often results in a shame complex.

It is very hard to understand these feelings as cognitive dissonance develops around feelings of guilt, shame, failure, immorality, desire to use substances, and desire to get sober. The want to drink and use drugs contradicts a person’s desire to be healthy and moral.

The overall experience of this can be very frustrating, until you feel like this:

Art therapy becomes very useful in this case, as it offers emotional release and catharsis without requiring direct analysis or understanding of emotions.

Art Therapy in Drug and Alcohol Rehab

There are two different approaches to art therapy; direct abstract. Both of these can be helpful in addiction treatment in their own ways.

Many addiction counselors, in addition to art therapists, may implement exercises that would count as direct approaches to art therapy in their sessions. These types of exercises specifically engage clients on the topic of addiction, via making art.

For example, clients may be instructed to draw a hand of addiction, with each finger labeled and decorated as an aspect of their addiction. One finger may be shame and have an image of a tornado on it. Another exercise may be to decorate masks that represent the oppression of addiction.

Abstract approaches will likely only be used by practiced art therapists. This entails exercises that are less directive and more free flowing. Clients may be given any array of art supplies to work with and allowed to create anything they feel like. There might be a little bit of direction given: make something that expresses how you are feeling today or that is inspired by your feelings on recovery.

After the creation, the group might share their pieces and work together to analyze them. The therapist would then guide the group through the process of assigning possible meaning to the shapes, colors, textures, and so on.

Find Rehab with Expressive Therapy

Not every rehab will offer art therapy, but some definitely do. Some treatment facilities may not have art therapy, specifically, but offer other expressive therapies like music therapy or creative writing. To talk to someone about addiction treatment and rehab, call (877)670-8451.

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