The Importance of Expressive Art Therapy in Recovery

By February 2, 2021Recovery, Treatment

Expressive art therapy can be a powerful tool to help someone through the addiction recovery process. Creating art, or simply observing it, can bring many people healing, discovery, self-expression, and joy. This form of self-expression allows people to discover and communicate their emotions that can often be too painful or difficult to verbalize directly. This gives an individual going through recovery for substance use disorder the opportunity to uncover, express, and work through specific problems in their life and emotions that they have been battling. 

A recent study found that art therapy has statistically significant positive effects and a substantial reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, low mood, trauma, distress, inability to cope, and low self-esteem. An essential part of recovery involves identifying and changing self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Through expressive art, one can express their unique and individual experiences while taking note of self-destructive thoughts that surface. Once they have done this, they can then work on replacing them with healthier ones. Using art as a creative form of expression, such as music, drama, writing, dance, or painting, can be a nontraditional way to convey these feelings healthily. 

What Is Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive arts therapy uses various art forms in a supportive setting to promote growth and healing. Expressive art refers to using the emotional and creative aspects of our inner lives in diverse media. It means looking inward to find these feelings and revealing them outwardly on a page, in music, through dance, and more, allowing an individual to seek meaning, find clarity, and achieve healing. An individual is not required to have any artistic ability to benefit from expressive art therapy because it focuses on the process of creating and less so on the final product or outcome. It is not about creating the best piece of art, the prettiest picture, or the most eloquent and refined words; It is about the raw release of feelings and the ability to let go. After looking back on what an individual creates, they can often find symbolic and metaphoric meaning and messages. Our art can speak back to us, and from that, we can gain insight.

Types of Expressive Art Therapy

During a session, the focus is geared towards participation, self-expression, self-discovery, and imagination. An individual can work on a creative piece alone or with a group. Some different types of expressive arts that can be used in this process include:

  • Art: Drawing, painting, sketching, or sculpting allow a person to express images they feel inside them. 
  • Music: Singing, songwriting, and playing instruments can help an individual unconventionally convey deep emotions.
  • Dance: Moving the body through dance can help an individual express their feelings physically.
  • Writing: Journaling, poetry, or other forms of writing provide a space on the page for a person to write down their emotions. 
  • Drama: This includes acting out experiences through role-playing and other forms of dramatic expression. 

Expressive arts therapy sessions can begin with a specific prompt, or they can be free-form. An initial prompt can help participants get started and then continue with their creative ideas, freely working independently from there. When the session nears the end, there can be an opportunity to reflect and discuss the creation, exploring what it reveals about the person’s emotional state.

Benefits

This form of therapy allows those suffering from substance use disorders and mental health issues to heal from past experiences and traumas when talking about it is too difficult. When used in addition to a patient’s comprehensive addiction treatment program, it can serve as a beneficial and holistic element in the recovery process. It can be especially helpful when someone is early in treatment and finds it hard to get in touch and talk about their feelings. Art therapy can also help the counselor better understand what the individual feels and why by spotting metaphors and symbols within a patient’s work. This also gives those seeking treatment a healthy outlet for these painful emotions. Some benefits of expressive arts therapy in addiction recovery include:

  • Lowers stress levels
  • Develops positive social skills
  • Starts dialogue about difficult topics in a safe space
  • Help patients self-discover and face their problems and emotions
  • Develops better self-awareness
  • Develops healthy coping skills
  • Assists in recovering from trauma
  • Improves mental health
  • Lessens the shame and guilt associated with addiction

 In addition to all of these benefits, an individual can look back on their work and learn to modify self-destructive behavior that they may have discovered or seen represented in the process of creating art. 

Individuals in treatment for substance use disorder and mental health issues may find it difficult to express painful and deep-seated emotions. However, this is an integral part of the recovery process: to dig deep inside, reflect, express, and take action to change for the better. Expressive Arts Therapy and using art in the process of healing can be helpful in addition to other treatment plans. Often the art we create speaks back to us and tells us something important about ourselves. Both the patient and the counselor can find the meaning within the art and use this to understand the patient’s emotions. At Alta Centers, we understand the value of creative expression and its importance in recovery. Located in the scenic Hollywood Hills, we provide quality treatment in a place where you can unblock and focus on healing while staying close to the city lights. For more information, call us today at (888) 202-2583.

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