How Art Therapy Works in Substance Abuse Treatment

Drawing self-portraits and painting elaborate scenes may not be what you expect when you enter substance abuse treatment. But if your substance abuse treatment center offers art therapy, that may be just what you’re doing.

In addition to traditional individual and group therapy, art therapy can be a worthwhile part of your substance abuse treatment plan. Through art therapy, you can express yourself through various art forms, such as painting, drawing, and sculpture. You may also participate in such artistic endeavors as pottery and collage.

Art therapy is especially useful in substance abuse treatment if you are not very good at verbalizing your feelings, or you find it difficult to clearly express your problems to your therapist. Sometimes art allows you to express yourself better than words.

What Is Art Therapy?

The art therapy movement began in the middle of the 20th century as a way to use visual representations to get a better understanding of a person’s mental conflict, and help in its resolution. Art therapy has been used in the treatment of a number of diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s, AIDS, and depression. It is increasingly being used along with conventional therapy in the treatment of many psychiatric disorders. It has also been found effective in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction.

During art therapy, you will participate in a variety of different creative activities. Your art therapist may ask you to adapt paintings of famous artists, such as Modigliani, Munch, or Van Gogh, in your artwork, or you may be asked to visually express an emotion you are experiencing. An art therapist can challenge you by asking you to use watercolor or another medium you are unfamiliar with to help you learn to give up some control over your behaviors. You may be even asked to use your non-dominant hand to draw.

The purpose of these exercises is to encourage you to take a different view of your life than the one you currently have. Expressing yourself through art can a liberating experience that can help you address your fears and desires, and learn to confront and process them. A trained art therapist can peek into your inner world and analyze your repressed desires and emotions through your artwork, allowing your substance abuse treatment to go deeper than it otherwise may have.

Art Therapy Doesn’t Require Artistic Talent

You may be dissuaded to enter art therapy during substance abuse treatment if you do not have a flair for art. However, you do not need to be artistic to benefit from art therapy. No one is going to judge you on the quality of your artwork. The focus is on what your art says about you and your thought process, and how this knowledge can be applied in your substance abuse treatment.

Even though art therapy doesn’t require you to possess any artistic talent, the sessions may bring out the hidden artist in you – you may surprise yourself with your ability to express yourself artistically. Art therapy can even help you discover novel things about yourself that you may not have known before.

As you continue art therapy as part of your substance abuse treatment, you will be able to chart your progress. Your art will speak for your improved state. Some of the first artwork produced by you will express anger, fear, frustration, and confusion, but as you go forward, your paintings will tone down as you find healthier ways to express yourself.