When a person decides to get professional help for a substance use disorder (SUD), they have several options for what kind of treatment they can receive. Many treatment centers offer their clients different types of therapy, such as individual, group, skills-focused, relapse prevention, and art therapy. These forms of therapy are often used in combination to provide individuals with multiple venues of expression and healing.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy uses artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health. Art therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, as well as in private practices, workshops, and small group settings.

Art therapy was founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and their personalities. It is rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being.

It’s no secret that people have been using the arts for communication, self-expression, and healing for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that art therapy became a formal program. It all started with doctors noting that individuals living with mental illness often expressed themselves in drawings and other artworks, which led many to explore the use of art as a healing strategy.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy can treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress. In many cases, it can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities, such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), as part of a treatment plan.

A study conducted at Drexel University demonstrated that as little as 45 minutes of creative activity can reduce stress and positively impact mental health, regardless of artistic experience or talent. The goal of art therapy is to use the creative process to help people explore self-expression, and in doing so, find new ways to gain personal insight and develop new, healthy coping skills.

As individuals create art, they may analyze what they have made and how it makes them feel. Through exploring their art, people can look for themes and conflicts that may be affecting their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in hopes that it will improve or restore the individual’s functioning and sense of well-being. It’s not about creating an artistic masterpiece but rather finding associations between the creative choices and an individual’s inner life.

What Does Art Therapy Look Like?

Art therapists are trained in both art and therapy. The process of art therapy isn’t like an art lesson. Rather, it is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories, and counseling techniques. With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, individuals can decode the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in art, which can lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behaviors so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.

Some art forms that are used in art therapy include:

  • Collage
  • Coloring
  • Doodling and scribbling
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Finger painting
  • Photography
  • Sculpting
  • Working with clay

Once the art pieces are complete, the art therapist will do what they are trained to do. Art therapists understand the roles that color, texture, and various art media can play in the therapeutic process and how these tools can help reveal a person’s thoughts, feelings, and psychological disposition.

The therapist guides the individual through a conversation using their artwork as a springboard for reawakening memories and telling stories that may reveal messages and beliefs from the unconscious mind. This fosters discussion and the ability for individuals to look inward and communicate their feelings out into the world.

Art Therapy as It Is Used in Treating SUD

Art therapy plays a key role in addiction treatment in many rehabilitation facilities to help aid in the recovery process. The inclusion of art therapy offers more robust treatment options and can improve patient outcomes. Viewing, discussing, and interpreting existing art can help in group discussions and can motivate individuals to change by moving them away from reflection and into a state of action.

In addition to having the ability to teach non-addictive self-soothing techniques in the form of art, art therapy has many benefits for those struggling with SUD, such as:

  • Decreased denial
  • Reduced opposition to treatment
  • An outlet for communication
  • Lessened shame
  • Feeling active and empowered
  • Improved problem solving

Art therapy can be a part of a treatment plan for a variety of mental health issues, including SUD. Because of its efficacy, many addiction treatment centers include art therapy as one of the holistic treatment modalities used to complement traditional forms of talk therapy.

 Art therapy allows individuals to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), art therapy may be a treatment option worth trying during your recovery process. Here at Bella Monte Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, California, we use a holistic, or whole-person, approach to SUD treatment that utilizes art therapy in conjunction with other types of therapy. Our team of professionals treats every client with compassion and tailors an individual program to each client’s individual needs. This gives clients at our facility the best possible chance at recovery and living a sober lifestyle. To learn more about what we have to offer our clients on their unique recovery journeys, call (800) 974-1938 today.