Art Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment

Art Therapy in Substance Abuse Treament

Treatment for addiction has come a long way in the last two decades with the integration of different therapies so that the addict begins to recover mentally, spiritually and physically. It isn’t an exact science, and many strategies have been used over the years in an attempt to assist the addict in a multifaceted approach. Art therapy in conjunction with talk therapy provides a method for the addict to express and get in touch with emotions that they may be unable to put into words.

Treatment for addiction has come a long way in the last two decades with the integration of different therapies so that the addict begins to recover mentally, spiritually and physically. It isn’t an exact science, and many strategies have been used over the years in an attempt to assist the addict in a multifaceted approach. Art therapy in conjunction with talk therapy provides a method for the addict to express and get in touch with emotions that they may be unable to put into words.

The reality of the situation is that most addicts have some type of trauma upon entering treatment. Recent statistics suggest that up to 70% of addicts entering treatment have experienced trauma of some type.

On top of addressing the addiction aspect it is vital that the individual receive treatment for the trauma as well. PTSD, anxiety and depression are all factors that should be examined and treated in the initial inpatient stay. Unfortunately trauma cannot be addressed in a 30 – 60 day setting. The length of time may vary but typically one should attend therapy for at least 12- 25 60 minute sessions.

What Is Art Therapy?

Some people think that art therapy is merely painting pictures, drawing, or playing with clay. This is not the case. You may be asked to draw or paint, typically the individual is asked to focus on a topic while doing the art. This therapy is performed by licensed psychotherapist who has specialized in this area, as well as being certified to practice it.

Art therapy uses creative processes and materials to explore feelings that oftentimes are difficult to put into words. These emotions are deep and overwhelming creativity allows for an outlet that bypasses the verbal part of the brain. Patients working along with a therapist are able to access and process powerful emotions and memories that may have been difficult to address in talk therapy alone.

How Art Therapy Can Enhance Traditional Treatment And Therapy

Art therapy helps reduce stress,and enhances self-esteem. It also encourages and provides a creative outlet for self-expression. When used in conjunction with talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and group therapy. It may even shorten the healing process itself.

For the person in treatment, art therapy may accelerate the process of working through trauma and grief. In doing so it provides a more stable foundation to build on when facing other contributing factors of addiction. Most people, arrive in treatment guarded and unwilling to face the feelings they have been running from for years.

Asking them to talk about these feelings will usually results in the client shutting down. Art therapy provides an outlet, that- #1 does not require talking about and #2 allows a free flow of thoughts and feelings. Typically with the expression of these thoughts or feelings the client begins to feel the difference that expressing your feelings can make.

Most people entering treatment, suffer from trauma of some type. These include but are not limited to: PTSD from childhood events like physical, emotional and sexual abuse, or neglect. Other events include sexual assault and abuse, domestic violence, drug-related violence, exploitation and many more.

Often, the trauma happened multiple times or in different situations. Leading to severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, low self-worth and esteem, promiscuity, suicide attempts, cutting, eating disorders and substance abuse. This list touches on common effects but is by no means complete

While getting clean and sober is a wonderful step in the healing process, it removes a primary coping mechanism frequently used by people who are struggling with mental illness and trauma.

For so many people, leaving treatment and heading out into the “normal world” leaves them feeling vulnerable and ill-equipped to deal with their still-existing issues. Art therapy is simply another tool to help people do some real work on these issues in and out of treatment.

Additional Benefits Of Art Therapy

Addiction physically affects the body and brain. Most people have suffered to some degree a cognitive deficit. Drug and alcohol use result in damage to the brain. Chronic use can affect short-term memory, decision making and problem solving abilities.

Fortunately, the brain is resilient and over time it will begin to recover. It takes time, at this point research suggests it can take up to 24 months for the brain to begin to produce its own neurotransmitters . Art therapy increases neural plasticity which is a fancy word for creating new pathways in the brain. The more you teach the brain new things the more you develop neural plasticity. Creativity is a great way to not only express yourself but also helps your brain heal!

Rosanne Landes