Art heals. For thousands of years, people have used creative expression to process and externalize both individual and collective turmoil, and the products of this creation are valued as some of our most highly prized cultural artifacts. However, the power of art is not confined to the masters—creative expression is a fundamental part of the human experience and its power is increasingly being recognized in therapeutic settings. For people in addiction treatment, formalized art therapy can be integral to the healing process, by allowing you to not only reach new levels of self-understanding and reflection, but by using your creative process as a springboard for social connection and revitalization.
In order to heal from addiction, we must both understand the sources of our addictive drive and process the pain addiction has caused us, to reach a deeper level of understanding. By going beyond the limits of language and inviting you to freely express yourself in new, multisensory ways, art therapy opens up the possibilities of self-discovery. Here, you can give concrete form to psychological distress and use the creative process to unlock the subconscious emotions, thoughts, and beliefs that keep you from moving forward, allowing you to see yourself in a new light. Many people find that artistic expression reveals parts of themselves that they were unable to access through verbal therapeutic modalities, and they are able to experience significant breakthroughs as they come to know themselves more fully.
The creative process can create a sense of joy and freedom that reminds you of the possibilities of life without addiction. Through artistic creation, you are able to explore and visualize your authentic self while developing new expressive abilities that can be deeply rewarding. As one recovering addict says:
[T]he arts are how I can reconnect with the world, make a difference and raise awareness of the power of one’s internal resources. They make one aware of the human potential and spirit and that there are many ways to heal, externally and internally. They also raise awareness of gratitude. Every day and moment should be celebrated. Life is a canvas, an open score, a bare stage, waiting for us to join the dance.[2. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/08/09/art-therapy-in-addiction-recovery/]
While anyone can engage in art therapy and no specific skills are required, many find a sense of purpose and confidence in creative mastery; discovering something that you are good at can be tremendously empowering, whether it is the technical quality of your drawing, the precision with which you create a collage, or the way you can communicate through your artistic output.
The Power of the Group
Sharing both your artistic process and products is an integral part of art therapy groups. By discussing and viewing your work with both the therapist and your peers, you are allowing others to bear witness to your healing process and validate your experiences. This is one of the greatest strengths of the therapy—being able to explore and share your creative and personal discoveries with others fortifies your ability to articulate your emotions, strengthens social bonds, and integrates you in a healing community. As Dr. Cathy Malchiodi writes,[3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201508/art-is-about-resilience-it-always-has-been]
It is this relational aspect that reinforces resilience as a central outcome of art therapy because it is through connection that not only personal strengths, but also reparation and recovery are often realized. Ultimately, sharing one’s story and truth is a key factor not only in recovery, but also in the realization of personal strength and efficacy.
Using creative expression as a forum for both inner reflection and social connection can be vital to your recovery process as you seek to create a life free from addiction. The insights, skills, and confidence you gain through art therapy can be carried beyond treatment and act as a critical catalyst for lasting emotional wellness and sobriety.
Alta Mira offers the highest standard of care for people living with addiction. Our innovative program draws on the most effective clinical and holistic therapies available to create lasting, sustainable healing. Contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one.
Art Credit: Alta Mira Alumni