Humans need art – some of the oldest human artifacts found are cave paintings and sculptures and we have been making music since somebody thought to bang two rocks together to make noise. Art in all of its forms improves our mood, helps us recover from mental illness and gives us something other than our problems to think about.
Art, quite simply, heals.
Studies, while not yet conclusive, show that art therapy can be helpful in recovery from substance abuse, particularly with women and adolescents as well as with individuals who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. Art and music therapy are generally considered “alternative” medicine – but their efficacy has been demonstrated over the years. Art therapy has been used to treat addiction since the 1950s.
What kind of art therapy is used in addiction treatment? Generally, group art therapy is used rather than individual – but individual art therapy has its place. It is used to encourage patients to express themselves in ways other than verbal, which can help get to the bottom of the problem that underlies the substance abuse. Essentially, art therapy is used to help the person work through the emotions and issues that lead them to drug use in the first place. Most art therapy used in substance abuse disorder treatment is creative (the patient makes art) rather than contemplative (the patient observes existing art), but the latter is occasionally used.
Art therapy is used as part of an overall treatment plan along with more traditional psychotherapy and physical treatments (such as drug substitution). The therapy process is similar to a directed art class or workshop. The class is guided by a licensed therapist who will run you through a series of activities designed to help with your specific problems. The kind of art varies – art therapists may use painting, sculpting, drawing, music, or even acting, dancing, and poetry, depending on the needs and interests of the patients. The specific goal of art therapy is to explore feelings, solve problems, achieve insight into your personal issues and change your perceptions to foster growth and healing.
There are three common techniques, and the therapist may use one or all of them. In the gestalt method, the therapist will use the art as a launching point for conversation and talk therapy. In active imagination, the art is used as a starting point for free association, and in third-hand the therapist assists in producing the art (this last technique is often used with people who have physical issues that may keep them from putting their vision on the paper.
Art therapy is beneficial to everyone, including people who “can’t draw their way out of a paper bag” – the point is to explore feelings, not to create a masterwork (although some patients might appreciate the side effect of their artistic skills improving, which can also help with self-esteem). Also, art therapy can help with disorders often found alongside substance abuse, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. (Art therapy can help PTSD sufferers through the use of “incident art” which encourages the patient to create art based off of their traumatic experiences, which builds perspective and helps with catharsis).
Malibu Hills Rehab offers art therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to help you or your family member not just recover from substance abuse but improve your mental health so that you do not feel as tempted to relapse. Our art therapists are trained in art education and therapeutic techniques. We offer both group and individual art therapy in conjunction with both cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy and other treatments to help build a lasting recovery and a better life.