Getting Recovery Help Through Art Therapy

At the foundation of any recovery program is communication. Typically this would mean a lot of talking between the person struggling with an addiction and their therapist. There could be intensive one-on-one conversations as well as group therapy sessions. The success of these sessions depends a lot upon the person doing the talking. It might prove to be a challenge for some folks to open up especially if an addiction has been used to cover up some deep seeded emotional pain.

What happens if the person simply won’t open up? Can sitting in silence help? Perhaps but a more effective approach towards opening up has been found through art therapy. Quite often the simple act of sketching or painting can open up a new line of discussion. Chalk it up to the power of art in its many forms.

 Art Is Easy

When presented with the option for art therapy, the first response to a patient in recovery is usually, “I’m not artistic.” That’s missing the point. There is no need to self-edit or think of becoming the next Picasso or DaVinci. Instead, a patient is encouraged to just do what comes naturally. They are given the typical tools of an art student such as paint, colored pencils, clay, charcoal and plenty of blank canvas.

The first exercise is a simple one: Draw what you’re feeling. As with any type of art, it’s best not to think but to just dive in. A person suffering from substance abuse could have many scattered images floating around in their head. Getting them down on paper in any form is what matters because this will be used to provoke those important follow-up conversations about what is going on inside.

Another effective exercise is to ask the budding artist to create some type of self-portrait. Again the goal isn’t to achieve artistic perfection but to simply express what is being felt. Throughout these types of sessions, trained art therapists will be on hand to interpret and guide the individual through their creative process.

What a person draws can give clues to what they are thinking not unlike recalling images from a dream. For instance, someone who draws a serene meadow with butterflies flitting about could be searching for peace. On the other hand, someone who draws fire or plane crashes could have pent up rage that needs to be vented. The hope is that the person can “leave it on the sketch book.”


Replacing the Triggers

Most problems with substance abuse come with a set of triggers which are unique to the person going through these struggles. Once those triggers are identified through therapy the goal becomes finding ways to deal with those issues with behavior modification. With art therapy, reaching for the sketchbook instead of the drug of choice during a stressful episode can be a big help. As the person gets comfortable with expressing themselves through art they could end up opening up a whole new avenue of communication. There doesn’t have to be just a single sketch but a series of drawings that when combined could become a personal comic or graphic novel. The art world is littered with masterworks born of pain.


Working the Recovery

Art therapy sessions can happen anywhere be it at a hospital, doctor’s office, clinic or recovery facility. As with any type of treatment, the first step should be to clear the body of whatever toxins might be flowing inside. This means cutting off from the substance and going through drug withdrawal. Sadly, it’s the fear of withdrawal pains that keeps many sufferers from ever seeking help. While it is true that this can be physically uncomfortable process, the worse of a withdrawal will happen within the first 72 hours. During that time it’s best for that person to be under medical supervision. This is the big benefit of starting a recovery journey at a certified recovery treatment facility. For instance, there are dozens of qualified treatment centers throughout Washington. Each one offers their own treatment programs that can be adjusted to the individual needs whether that means in-patient or outpatient care. As soon as a person is sober they can begin the introspective work where art therapy comes into play. Art therapy won’t hold all the answers but instead it can serve as component in a comprehensive treatment program. The real shame would be not getting the help that is so readily available.


– This guest post was kindly donated by Jennifer Lewis to raise awareness about drug addiction & the help available for addicts.

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