Can Art Therapy Help During Drug Rehabilitation? [Guide]

Art therapy is an engaging, therapeutic combination of art-making and appreciating combined with psychotherapeutic processing and reflection. Art therapy allows individuals to foster creativity and express themselves using various materials and mediums. It may seem like a new, recent phenomenon, but using art as therapy is a practice that has been around for centuries. Art therapy as a profession originated in the 1950s in mental health facilities, and even as substance abuse treatment.

Art therapy can be a particularly excellent choice for those who are turned off by traditional talk therapy, or who can’t or dislike to express themselves verbally. Studies have shown art therapy can be an amazing holistic option for substance abuse treatment because of its variety of uses and benefits. If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, art therapy can be an amazing option. However, you don’t have to decide anything alone. Please give us a call at 405-583-4390, and we will support you in your journey to finding a path to recovery that is best for you.  

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Art Therapy has an endless amount of applications that can help you in your recovery.

How Art Therapy for Substance Abuse Works


Art therapy addresses a variety of components of the self. It can evoke painful and pleasant memories, identify and change false perceptions of self, and address suppressed and/or unaddressed trauma. Substance abuse is a brain disorder that is caused by a number of contributing factors. Co-occurring disorders include anxiety, depression, and trauma. Along with significant life experiences like divorce, death, and abuse can all trigger the abuse of substances as coping mechanisms.

Art therapy is an effective process because it utilizes traditional processes of counseling and psychotherapy integrated with creative processes of artistic expression, to reduce stress and anxiety, manage grief, and increase self-esteem and wellbeing, thus acting as an incredible tool in substance abuse treatment. Making art can be physically, visually, and emotionally relaxing. It is also a great way to cope with difficult emotions or process things that are hard to talk about. This makes art therapy as a practice immensely healing, and rewarding. Creating the art itself has significant benefits, but viewing, discussing, and interpreting existing art can help in group discussions, and can motivate patients to change by moving them away from reflection and into a state of action.

What Does Art Therapy Address

Art therapy doesn’t only address the substance used as a coping mechanism, but also the whole person. It helps them figure out who they are now and who they want to be. It can also introduce creative, fulfilling coping mechanisms based on the creative process that can completely replace old, harmful, negative ones. An art therapy session is first and foremost guided by the client, all materials and exercises are based on what is most suitable and comfortable for you.

There is never pressure to embrace materials, mediums, and activities that don’t feel helpful or fill your cup. Art therapy at its core recognizes the uniqueness of each individual’s identity, journey, and histories, and honors that through free creative reign. It is incredibly empowering to acquire new skills and create work that you want to create, especially when you have a say in your process.  

Art Therapy in Addiction Treatment


Art therapy on its own has incredible benefits. It is used for substance use disorder itself, as well as any accompanying disorders or belief systems getting in the way of recovery. For example, art therapy has proven incredibly effective for people who have experienced trauma. There is a large link between trauma and substance use, and art therapy can address each on their own and how they function together. For example, art therapy for substance use can help by finding joyful, mindful, anxiety-reducing artistic activities to replace negative coping mechanisms.

Art therapy for addiction is used to process the uncomfortable emotions and feelings that contribute to why someone uses it in the first place. An art therapist isn’t there to tell someone how to recover. The role of the creative arts therapist in the treatment of addictions is to call, assist, guide, model, encourage, and inspire creativity and self-expression.  Art therapy for addiction recovery can look like group art therapy, family art therapy, solo art therapy. It can take place in a studio, a hospital, a residential treatment center, a support group, and even virtually. It is catered to the needs of individuals, communities, and facilities, and can be implemented and applied in an infinite number of ways.

A practice rooted in creativity calls for creative ways of application and enjoyment! Art therapy has transformed the ways medical professionals view addiction treatment thanks to its success in dynamic, engaging care that works at treating holistically. To treat holistically is to treat the whole person, not only their addiction but their mind, body, soul, and spirit. The creation and absorption of artwork can feed all of the above. 

But…I’m Not an Artist


Many find themselves intrigued by the potential of art therapy, but find themselves holding back due to fear. They may not identify as an artist or have any artistic ability whatsoever. The beauty of art therapy is that it does not require an artistic skill. It operates on the principle that the process of art is more important than the product.

The way creating increases mindfulness, reduces anxiety, and evokes emotions is where the therapeutic benefits of art therapy lie. The product also provides value, but the value is based on reflection and processing rather than how artistically advanced it is. Art therapists work with their clients to ensure the activities they work on together are individualized to their clients’ preferences. The therapist also makes sure the activities are the most effective for their treatment.  

Tasks that may not seem “artistic” or significant can actually prove to be incredibly powerful and productive. For example, a common art therapy activity is scribbling. It may seem elementary, but it serves clients in numerous ways, such as allowing them to release emotions, relax, let go, and evoke nostalgic memories. Individuals utilizing art therapy in their treatment will find themselves with endless options of materials to work with. This includes materials they may not have used before. Tools such as paint, markers, pencils, and clay are common options. Also, there are digital, fabric, collage, and wood options, to name a few.

As stated earlier, viewing existing art also has various therapeutic benefits, for those less comfortable with actively creating. Individuals who don’t feel like they have artistic skill shouldn’t let that belief shy them away from this innovative, holistic, practice filled with healing potential. 

Art Therapy and Relapse Prevention


As you can see, art therapy for addiction recovery is incredibly promising. But what about relapse? Relapse is an unfortunate reality to many after recovering but doesn’t have to be. Art therapy for substance abuse, in particular, is useful because it’s all-encompassing benefits are excellent for relapse prevention. Relapse prevention has been linked to programs that help those struggling with substance abuse.

Additionally, art therapy helps the person most effectively cope with anxiety, and teach mindfulness practices. This is because anxiety is a very common vulnerability factor in people who develop substance use disorders. Anxiety isn’t something that goes away after treatment. In fact, it often increases after getting back to “normal life.” This makes it even more imperative for individuals in treatment to learn effective ways to cope with the anxieties present in everyday life. Something mindfulness also helps with it.  

 Create a Meaningful Reminder

The act of making art can be a soothing, mindful activity, and thus reduce stress and anxiety. This makes for excellent take-homes from treatment to encourage long term recovery and is the prime example of art therapy for substance abuse. Art therapy for addiction is multidimensional, multifaceted, and completely unique to each person. This makes it an exemplary option for not only recovering but maintaining recovery through addressing what needs to be addressed from person to person.

Relapse is a fear for many when starting their journey, but art therapy helps reduce that fear through evidence-based methods that work. Having as many tools you can in your toolbox is the greatest way to ensure a confident and comfortable return to everyday life after treatment. Art therapy and addiction treatment work by being able to appeal to all. From bringing outplay to creating beauty and by doing difficult internal work in a way that is both approachable and joyful. 

Find an Art Therapist Today


Given the immense promise of art therapy for substance abuse treatment, you may be considering seeking it out for you or your loved one struggling with addiction. There are many ways to incorporate art therapy into your treatment. When it comes to outpatient options, finding a licensed art therapist with their own practice, or an outpatient treatment facility that has an art therapy program, is an excellent way to do such. One of the most beneficial ways is finding a rehabilitation facility that incorporates art therapy. There are so many inpatient facilities that have art therapists and art therapy groups. Paired with additional treatment methods, medical supervision and support, and lack of potential problematic outside influences, this can be a really effective option.  

Finding a therapist/program that works with you as a unique individual is essential in sustainable, long-term recovery. There is so much power in feeling supported and heard, something that art therapists and treatment programs can provide. Recovery and the risk of relapse can seem daunting but are absolutely achievable. The first step is the biggest and most difficult. Previous negative experiences with other therapy methods or therapists should not dissuade you from finding a person and process that works for you.

If you are seeking art therapists and art therapy for addiction treatment options for yourself or a loved one, the selection process can be incredibly overwhelming. Let us take the burden off your shoulders by giving us a call at 405-583-4390. We can assist you in finding the best fit for your wants and needs. There is never shame in asking for help. You deserve recovery, and a compassionate, supportive team to get you there. 

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