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The Use of Art Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Paula Holmes, LCSW

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Last Updated - 05/10/22

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Updated 05/10/2022

The use of art therapy helps people in recovery explore and express feelings in a way that no other type of treatment can.

The process of abstaining from substances and healing emotional needs during recovery is intense. Art therapy during addiction treatment can make a significant difference, which is why many drug rehabs use art therapy as a standard treatment modality. Creating art can serve as a healthy outlet for thoughts and feelings that are difficult to express, making art therapy and addiction treatment a natural match.

What Is Art Therapy?

In a nutshell, art therapy is the use of creative outlets to improve one’s emotional and mental well-being. Art therapy can vary in style, depending on the individual needs of the client and the types of interventions that the provider finds helpful.

Art can unlock symbolic connections that talk therapy may not be able to, and the therapist can help identify some of those emotional links. It is a powerful treatment method that can offer a great deal of internal growth and connection.

Types of Art Therapy

Types of art therapy can include:

  • Painting
  • Collage
  • Photography
  • Textiles
  • Many other formats.

How Art Therapy Supplements Recovery

The use of expressive modalities such as art therapy has the benefit of teaching self-soothing techniques during sessions. Self-soothing and the use of art therapy to reduce stress are two practical ways that this form of therapy can be beneficial. Mental health providers often use art therapy in conjunction with other forms of therapy for optimal results.

Therapeutic Techniques Often Used With Art Therapy

Art therapy can be used with many other forms of therapy to help people explore and express feelings. The use of Gestalt art therapy helps clients to view their ideas of themselves and the world as an active process rather than a reflection of past life events. The use of art in this type of setting enables a transition of focus away from past events; it allows people to sit with current experiences and feelings and to work on managing the impact of the moment.

Active imagination art therapy is a modality that uses art and imagination as a means of interpreting and understanding oneself. The use of creative outlets can be helpful in processing thoughts and feelings that may have been difficult to express in other ways.

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What Happens During an Art Therapy Session?

Art therapy offers diverse options. Group art therapy directives can be a method to narrow in on a certain theme or feeling, as requested by the art therapist. This method works well for exploring emotional themes that arise in group art therapy, such as challenges with loneliness or depression.

The use of art to express these types of feelings can elicit rich material for further discussion, given the power of images and symbolism in the human mind.  Art therapy activities for recovering addicts is a terrific way to build coping skills and reduce anxiety.

Art Therapy in Adult Addiction Treatment

Art therapy for adults can be particularly effective. Often in adulthood, people tend to use less creative outlets in daily life. The return to art for self-expression, an emotional outlet, and as a way to get in touch with one’s thoughts is powerful. The use of art therapy and creative coping techniques for older adults can be a rare opportunity for people to express themselves in new and different ways.

Art therapy for adult addiction treatment is a healthy way for those in recovery to get in touch with feelings and express them creatively. Whether through the use of collage, painting or creating pottery, art therapy for adults is healing.

Art Therapy in Teen Addiction Treatment

Art therapy for teens is extremely positive, as the yearning for self-expression and creative outlets is paramount for this age group. For teens in recovery, art therapy is especially effective. Learning to explore and express feelings through creative outlets can help teens cope and maintain sobriety. Art therapy offers a stress management skill that people of any age can benefit from.

The additional benefit for people in recovery is that art can be a coping strategy to help manage urges to use. It is easily accessible and inexpensive, and the possibilities for creative outlets are endless.

Effectiveness of Art Therapy in Addiction Treatment

While the effectiveness of art therapy may vary from person to person, as an overall modality, it is a practical and efficient method. The use of art therapy for addiction is exceedingly beneficial and can be a healthy outlet for those who are working on maintaining sobriety, even if they are early in recovery. In one survey, 36% of substance abuse treatment centers use art therapy as a modality. Drug rehab aftercare is a helpful area for art therapy to take place, as it offers people a safe emotional outlet and method of managing cravings at a time that may feel vulnerable.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to explore your treatment options and get the help you deserve.

View Sources

Healthywaymag.com. “Art Therapy: Types, Benefits and Connection to Color Psychology.” Accessed September 14, 2019. 

Aletraris, Lydia, Ph.D, Paino, Maria, Ph.D, Bond Edmond, Mary, Ph.D. et. al. “The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs.” National Institutes of Health. October 2014. Accessed September 14, 2019.