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Art Therapy: Unlocking Your Door to Recovery

Color and brushstroke, canvas and ink. Mixed media or visionary board. Areas of expansive open medium or closely intertwined pictures, taking up the entire space. Each bit of creation tells its own expressive story – a glimpse into the mind and heart of its creator. At face value, holding a brush, crayon or pen in your hand doesn’t instantly unlock the doors to your soul. Yet, like a key to a door, once you begin to use the resource, life begins to open around you, finding yourself on a journey of self-exploration with revelations and memories at each turn.

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” ~Pablo Picasso

In the world of addiction, silence is law. Isolation is master and thoughts are best kept trapped. At least that’s what it wants you to believe. By integrating Art Therapy into your rehabilitation, after care and recovery plans, you are creating light where there is darkness, opening emotions once closed off and finding outlets to use your voice that was once silenced by substance abuse and mental health pain. Art therapy allows you to uncover the lies and discover your truth hidden beneath the pieces you create.man drawing while meeting with his addiction counselor during art therapy

Art as a Means of Recovery

As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy “enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship…” Simply put, if a thought, feeling or experience proves too painful to be written or verbalized, then it’s quite possible that the use of experiential art therapy can surpass the stumbling block of words. Art therapy gives voice to the individual in recovery, taking one by the hand and saying “I can’t tell you, let me SHOW you…

Art therapy isn’t just limited to painting and drawing – it encompasses several different forms of expressive therapies, including:

  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Dance
  • Drawing
  • Acting
  • Music
  • Writing and Composition

This therapy is especially helpful for people who have deeply embedded psychological issues related to their addiction, such as a history of abuse. Often in cases of abuse, the mind will shut sections of itself down in self-preservation mode, storing painful memories and experiences deep within it’s recesses – like an old box buried deep within an attic.

Creating art is a non-verbal process that breaks those thoughts and feelings out, expanding the ways a person can relate their ideas and emotions, providing an opportunity to explore, understand, and bring to light issues in a person’s life that they may not feel safe discussing in an open forum.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together…” ~Vincent Van Gogh

Art provides a mechanism for coping, one small creation at time. It gives release through color and expression, defining the undefinable pain many addiction and abuse survivors cannot put words to.

Therapeutic Art Activities

If you are considering Art Therapy as part of your individualized recovery plan, here are some creative examples of expression that you may experience your recovery process:

  1. Creating a vision board: Where have you come from? Where do you see your life going? What images can you cut out and piece together to give you a clear picture of where you would like to be after recovery? Create a piece that tells your story and inspires you towards why recovery matters so much to you.man using photography to help beat drug addiction and assist in his art therapy for recovery
  2. Crafting a Mandala: For you “doodlers”, this form of art therapy may be the perfect choice. Psychologist Carl Jung believed that in creating the “sacred circle” one can express deeper thoughts of self-realization. “Mandalas denoted a unification of opposites, served as expressions of the self, and represented the sum of who we are… According to Jung, mandalas symbolize “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.” They have the potential to call forth something universal within, perhaps even the proverbial archetypal Self. And at the same time, they give us an experience of wholeness amid the chaos of every day life..
  3. Exploring the past with Photo Therapy: Craft natural memory “bridges” from who you were to who you are now using past photographs of life. This also allows you to share more of your environment and family dynamic with your therapists – discussing patterns, fractions and factions within your family and relationships.
  4. Getting Digital: As technology has evolved, so can therapy. Where you may not be so great with pencils or paint, using specially designed software to craft and create may be your perfect outlet. Design graphics or images to help release your trapped stories within.

While no one singular art form is going to connect with everyone, the best art therapists are masters at tailoring the experiential session to the client’s personal need. Be sure that in any art therapy program, you are partnering with a credentialed art therapist – generally master level clinicians, guided by a set of ethical standards and a diverse scope of practice.

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Read More from Lindsey Simpkins:

5 Reasons to Choose to Detox in a Hospital

About The Contributor
Lindsey Simpkins is a seasoned learning and development professional with more than 13 years of experience in adult learning, including instructional design, facilitation, talent assessment, leadership development and organizational development.... Read More