Treating Addiction With Art Therapy

Posted on July 2nd, 2014

Treating Addiction With Art TherapyArt therapy is one of a variety of treatment options for people in the process of recovering from addiction. To some people, art therapy and other creative therapies may not seem like “real” therapy, or like a treatment approach that is likely to have a lasting effect. In a few states, art therapy is not a recognized type of therapy, which means that therapists cannot bill for it on its own.

However, art therapy is well-regarded in most places and often has a profound effect on the people who participate in these creative sessions. Centers for in-patient addiction treatment frequently provide the opportunity for art therapy along with individual and group therapy sessions. Many independently employed therapists also provide art therapy or incorporate elements of art therapy into their treatment sessions.

Art therapy has many of the same goals as more traditional individual and group therapy. Like these approaches to treatment, art therapy gives patients the opportunity to express thoughts and feelings that they may have difficulty putting into words. For people with particularly painful past experiences, such as abuse, art therapy is an alternate form of communication to help them begin to approach issues they have never addressed.

Forms and Techniques of Art Therapy

Art involves many disciplines, and art therapy typically offers a variety of ways for patients to express themselves. Painting, drawing and sculpting are common mediums for art therapy. Dancing, music, poetry and drama are other forms of art therapy, although sometimes these disciplines are referred to as creative therapy rather than art therapy.

There are subsets of expression under these labels as well. A popular form of music therapy is drumming, which has been shown to benefit addicts by slowing brain-wave cycles. Dance therapy often involves free-form movement that includes hypnotic techniques and emphasizes expression over technique. Social dancing is also popular, as it encourages positive social interactions in addition to artistic expression.

While some people may discover latent artistic talent through art therapy, the emphasis during this form of treatment is on the cathartic and expressive process of creation rather than the artistic results. Therapists will encourage patients to talk about their process and the images in their work rather than provide artistic critiques.

There are several techniques that treatment programs employ to get the best results from art therapy sessions. The third-hand technique involves the therapist in the creation process, although the patient still directs the artistic vision. With Gestalt therapy techniques, therapists often use a piece of artwork as a jumping-off point for an in-depth discussion. The active imagination technique involves a stream-of-consciousness, free-association approach in which the patient lets his or her mind wander, with the artwork as a starting point.

Other Benefits of Art Therapy

Resolving past issues is not the only goal and result of art therapy. This approach to therapy can also help patients build a foundation for the future by giving them a continued outlet for their thoughts and emotions, and teaching them how to relax and overcome stress without having to resort to drugs or alcohol.

Some forms of creative therapy can also serve as important socialization tools. Many people who have been struggling with drug use will not have made connections with people who are not fellow drug users in a long time. Drama, dance/movement and music therapy helps people to connect with fellow patients over something other than their past substance abuse. For many, it gives them a new interest and an outlet for continuing to make social connections after they are discharged from treatment.

For many people, art therapy is part of a short-term intensive addiction treatment program at an inpatient or outpatient facility. Other people may incorporate art therapy sessions into their lives for years to come, just as other people will attend regular talk therapy over a long period of time to help them continue to unravel complex personal issues and maintain good overall mental health.

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