When you think of therapy you might picture a person on a couch talking about their troubles, or a circle full of chairs where people share their stories one by one. While those can be accurate depictions, there are actually many different forms of therapy. One that is particularly powerful for people with substance use disorder and underlying mental health conditions is art therapy.
Understanding art therapy and knowing its benefits can help you recover. Finding a treatment center that offers art therapy and understands the benefits of this approach can give you a novel way of coping with and processing your traumas and mental health conditions. Ultimately, that helps you set a foundation for living a healthy and sober life in recovery.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy lets people use visual means to express emotion, trauma and other concerns. This approach to therapy “is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change,” according to the American Art Therapy Association.
You’ll notice that this aligns with the goals of traditional therapy: to help people understand themselves and their traumas, and develop tools for moving forward. Art therapy is done under the guidance of trained and licensed therapists, just like traditional therapy.
Why Choose Art Therapy?
Some people might find art therapy to be less daunting than traditional talk-therapy. In art therapy, people are allowed to express their emotions and concerns through their art work, rather than by verbalizing them. For some people, this is a more effective and comfortable form of communication.
Despite this non-traditional approach, art therapy has been proven effective by studies. Art therapy is cost-effective and associated with positive outcomes for patients with mental health disorders. Since many people with substance use disorders also have underlying mental health concerns, art therapy can be an effective form of treatment.
Do I Need To Be an Artist?
You don’t need to be an artist to benefit from art therapy. Art therapy isn’t about making beautiful art (although that happens sometimes). It’s about expressing whatever is on your mind through painting, drawing or other creative means. After you’ve made a piece, your art therapist will help you look at your work to understand your motivation for depicting things the way you did, and how that relates to your mental health challenges or concerns. Even if you haven’t had experience expressing yourself creatively before, you can still benefit from art therapy.
Is Drawing Art Therapy?
It’s important to understand the difference between art therapy, and art. Many people, including those in recovery, find it relaxing and even therapeutic to create things by painting, doodling, drawing, knitting or other artistic means. While this is definitely beneficial as a relaxation and centering technique, it’s different from art therapy.
Art therapy is done with a licensed therapist, who is helping you work through specific concern. Doing self-directed art on your own or with your treatment center can be great. However, it’s very different from engaging in art therapy with a trained provider.
Many people find art therapy interesting. If you enjoy art, it’s worth giving art therapy a try. Even if you don’t consider yourself artistic, you might enjoy taking a different approach to therapy and trying something new. If you want to make art therapy part of your treatment program, be sure to use a treatment center that has a licensed art therapist. That way, you’ll benefit from the full healing power of art therapy.
Ultimately, art therapy is about much more than just relaxing with an adult coloring book (although that’s great too!). It’s about working with a professional to identify and understand your traumas, thought patterns and mental health concerns, in order to heal them and live a healthy life in recovery.