Art Therapy for Addiction
Art is a powerful thing. It’s one aspect of humanity that separates us from other animals. We create and enjoy works of art for no concrete purpose. We simply find meaning and joy in viewing and making art. In fact, the act of creating can be therapeutic. Art therapy is a technique that has only been developed in the psychiatric world over the last century. For people addicted to drugs or alcohol, the act of creating art is therapeutic, as is the completion of a finished product. When combined with other aspects of addiction treatment, art can play an important role in healing.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a type of mental health therapeutic technique, and an art therapist is a valid and recognized professional within the mental health community. An art therapist guides patients to work with various media to create works of art. Through the creative process and the completed work, the patients are encouraged to think about and discuss emotions, behaviors, self-awareness and mindfulness. The process helps patients to learn how to change behaviors, cope with emotions, develop self-esteem, and improve the ability to cope with daily life and difficult situations. The creativity and the creative work both serve to stimulate and guide therapy.
Art Therapy and Addiction
Practitioners of art therapy work in a variety of settings and with a range of psychiatric conditions. They work in hospitals, schools, private practices, senior centers and rehab facilities. For addicts in rehab or outpatient programs, art therapy can help in a number of ways. The creative process can act as an important outlet for difficult emotions. It can serve as an alternative to drug use when cravings hit. Art works created by an addict in treatment can help guide a therapy session. Art used in group settings can help to foster a sense of community and may help to build positive social skills.
Examples of Art in Action
Art therapy may sound like a new wave, alternative approach to addiction treatment, but it has been helping countless people heal and feel better about their lives. For example, troubled young people struggling with addiction came together to paint a collective city mural in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The painting is called “Awakenings,” and adorns 300 square feet of space on the outside wall of the city’s Hart Gallery. The young people involved were all struggling with addiction and the creation of the mural was both personal and public. In addition to using art as personal expression, the teens developed a sense of community pride in creating something beautiful for the public to enjoy.
Participants in an art therapy program in North Carolina create similar moving works of art. Patients create individual works in order to express the emotions they associate with drug use and addiction. Many of those benefitting from the program find that the therapy using art fills a void in their lives. It helps them to express themselves in ways that traditional therapy could never accomplish. They also report feeling calmer during and after the creative process.
As with any type of treatment technique for addiction, art therapy is not a cure. It is not meant to be used in isolation. Art therapy is a useful and inspiring complement to other aspects of an addiction treatment program. When combined with traditional therapy, medications where appropriate and other holistic approaches, art therapy can be a powerful part of healing from drug or alcohol addiction.
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