The Value of Art Therapy in Recovery

In honour of Avalon’s Art Therapy Groups starting this fall, we wanted to share a blog about the role and benefits of art in recovery. Creative outlets like visual art, writing, music and acting can help individuals explore their feelings and express emotions, thoughts or memories that are otherwise hard to share. Many people who have an addiction disorder experience alexithymia, which is a condition where one has difficulty identifying and describing their feelings. Art can help overcome some of these barriers. 

About art therapy

Creating art, or even just observing art, can bring people great healing, discovery, joy, and self-expression. It is widely known to improve the mental health of individuals dealing with a myriad of issues, including but not limited to: addictions, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief and loss, attention disorders, PTSD, trauma, and relationship difficulties. Guilt and shame are common shared emotions among these challenges, and creative therapies can provide a safe space to explore these feelings without fearing it will lead to relapse. In fact, processing unhealthy emotions and can increase the likelihood of long-term successful sobriety. 

The focus of art therapy is not on creating a perfect end product, but on the process of unleashing creative power and finding self-expression. The goal is to find meaning and connection within your life. The only requirement is openness to experimentation and to diving into emotions and thoughts that may otherwise have remained below the surface in the subconscious mind. Art therapy is usually held in tranquil and calming spaces, requiring little conversation, which helps those who may struggle in recovery programs that focus on verbal discussion or one-on-one interactions. 

Benefits of art therapy in recovery

Art therapy alone does not claim to be the solution, but when used in conjunction with other treatments such as 12-step meetings, it can enhance the recovery process for many. Moreover, it: 

  • Improves mindfulness: Creating original artwork from start to finish requires a great amount of focus and single-mindedness. By sitting in a space and dedicating yourself to a task or craft, you naturally develop a better sense of mindfulness and peace.
     
  • Builds spiritual connection: For many, the creative process unleashes a significance that can be described as a spiritual connection. It can feel like unlocking a new piece of the self or engaging with something greater outside of the self.
      
  • Boosts self-esteem: Creating a piece of art is an accomplishment in itself, which instills a sense of confidence, value, and self-appreciation. Doing something you couldn’t before, and seeing a finished product, validates you as someone who is useful, valuable, and capable

  • Lowers stress levels: When you find the right art medium for you, you’ll know by the way it lifts the stress and anxiety off of your shoulders. Art can be meditative, relaxing, and joyful – and a healthy outlet and coping mechanism for those in recovery.
      
  • Starts dialogue about challenging topics in a safe space: Many women who are struggling with trauma, PTSD, relationship problems, or other difficult emotions or situations can have a hard time verbalizing those out loud, especially to others. Art therapy can be that much needed first step of expressing thoughts and feelings without the pressure of finding the right words or feeling judged by the person you’re sharing with.
      
  • Provides emotional release: Art is exactly what you make it. With the freedom to express yourself to any degree and in any form that you choose, you are hopefully able to release pent up or suppressed emotions in a way that feels safe, comfortable, and authentic to you.
      
  • Regains sense of control: This study found that individuals with mental health disorders who attended regular art therapy sessions felt empowered to make choices about the outcome of their artwork. 
      
  • Helps with socialization and playfulness: Art can be fun! Finding a method of emotional release that also provides joy and fulfillment is a wonderful thing. It can be an individualistic practice that provides personal healing, or it can be a shared experience that elicits group healing.

  • Works as a relapse prevention technique: Working through feelings, thoughts, and temptations through creative expression is a valuable lifelong skill. Art therapy is often used in early recovery, but once out of treatment or further down the path of recovery, triggers will still appear in daily life. Having art as a reliable outlet for emotional regulation and processing will help to maintain successful long-term sobriety.
      
  • Creates basis for reflection: Women in recovery are able to look back at past work and reflect on what emotions were brought to light during that time, and any discoveries or realizations that were made during the creative process. 

Art therapy in daily life

There are many ways to find and enjoy art therapy in daily life. You can attend a group or class in a more formalized and supervised setting, and/or you can integrate creative practices into your every day in a number of ways. Below are some simple ideas: 

  • Visual art: sketching, drawing, painting, sculpting, graphic designing 
  • Writing: short stories, poetry, journal entries, free-flowing pieces 
  • Music: playing instruments, singing, writing songs, playing inspiring music out loud 
  • Dance/movement: activating the body, moving as it feels comfortable, stretching 
  • Drama: acting out scenes or skits, writing sketches, role-playing, accents 
  • Photography: at home, in your neighbourhood, on film, through polaroids, on a smart phone 
  • Collaging/scrapbooking: printing photos, designing layouts, creating captions 

 

Art therapy is a wonderful emotional outlet that’s both fun and productive. Whether you’re a person in recovery, trying to process a trauma, feeling particularly stressed or down, or just want to try something new, art therapy may be for you. With some easy experimentation, you may just find a new hobby, source of joy, and avenue to process deeper parts of yourself. 

If you’re a woman of Avalon and have created art of any form in recovery that you would like to share with our community, please feel free to email it to: hannah@avaloncentres.org. We are featuring creative works from our women on both our website and our social media accounts on an ongoing basis. The goal of this project is to provide exposure of our talented women to the Avalon audience, and to create a community of shared expression and healing. 

Moreover, if this blog and the idea of art therapy spoke to you, please consider joining Avalon’s Art Therapy Groups starting this September! Running in-person out of both our Vancouver and North Shore Centres and led by female Art Therapy students, this is a perfect opportunity to check out the therapeutic benefits of art in a safe and familiar space with others in recovery. For more info and to sign up, please contact the appropriate Centre: avalonvancouver@avaloncentres.org or avalonnorthshore@avaloncentres.org 💜 

 

Sources: 

https://www.icaad.com/blog/creativity-in-recovery 

https://www.narcononarrowhead.org/blog/the-value-of-the-arts-in-recovery-part-1.html 

https://altacenters.com/importance-expressive-art-therapy-recovery 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/ 

https://www.rtor.org/2018/07/10/benefits-of-art-therapy/ 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/43476809_Art_and_Recovery_in_Mental_Health_A_Qualitative_Investigation 

https://echorecovery.org/blog/why-we-support-art-in-addiction-recovery/ 

https://www.altaloma.com/benefits-of-art-therapy-during-recovery/ 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/evaamsen/2020/06/28/why-evidence-for-the-effect-of-art-on-health-is-especially-relevant-during-a-pandemic/?sh=53d3e7bd3c49 

https://www.ccrw.org/2018/07/25/the-role-of-art-therapy-in-mental-health-recovery/ 

https://rehabs.com/blog/art-therapy-7-benefits-of-being-creative-in-rehab/ 

https://www.awakeningstreatment.com/blog/benefits-of-art-therapy-in-addiction-recovery/

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