Some people view art-making as a frivolous hobby to be engaged in as their free time allows. Other individuals see art as an essential aspect of their lives, something they need to do in order to be healthy and thrive. For people in recovery, this second perspective may be especially true, for a variety of reasons.
Perfection Not Required
A common misconception people have about art is that they cannot do it if they aren’t already technically skilled and conventionally talented. As shared by SMART Recovery, this is truly not necessary for a person to benefit from the healing power of the arts. The focus should be on the expressive process and not the outcome.
A Healthy Emotional Outlet
If a person has struggled with addiction, they may have leaned on substances to suppress difficult emotions, or they might have a hard time recognizing their own emotions or the emotions of other people. With their drug of choice removed, a person in recovery will need to learn new ways to deal with their feelings.
Dealing with emotions can be difficult even for those who have not struggled with substance abuse. Someone in addiction recovery has the added complication of having to rewire their brain: the brain must relearn how to make the natural chemicals to help the person feel positive emotions at the same time that the person may be learning or relearning how to feel and express emotions appropriately.
According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, a person’s ability to express themselves via art is not necessarily adversely impacted by declines in brain functioning typically associated with substance abuse. Therefore, a person in active addiction or early recovery may have an easier time expressing their feelings via artistic means than verbally.
Not only does art therapy give a person a healthy emotional outlet, but there is reason to believe that it can also make recovery faster and more stable. According to a 1983 study on art therapy in recovery, the goals of art therapy and recovery reinforce each other. These goals include:
- Improving group interactions
- Becoming more self-aware
- Becoming more adept at non-verbal communication
- Moving from reaction to action
- Better utilizing of both hemispheres of the brain together
- Increasing self-discipline, self-reliance, and personal responsibility
What Does Art Therapy Look Like?
As shared by our partners at English Mountain Recovery Center, when art is used as a therapeutic intervention, it can involve a number of different forms:
- Music (listening or making)
- Visual arts – painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.
- Writing – poetry, fiction, journaling, or bibliotherapy
How Effective Is Art Therapy?
Science has been able to show some results that point to art and music therapies being beneficial to substance abuse recovery, but it seems to be the general consensus among treatment experts that these interventions are best paired with 12-step and other programs that are designed specifically for the treatment of substance use disorder and not as a replacement for them.
Art That Isn’t Therapy
To qualify as “therapy,” the practice of art needs to be guided by a trained clinician, which is not to say that art completed on one’s own is not also beneficial to recovery. CNN shared the story of a man who recovered from alcoholism and a debilitating motorcycle accident, partially through the use of painting. Though it took him some time to get sober, painting and attending art school gave him a reason to want to stay in recovery.
Costs Associated with Artistic Expression
While art supplies can sometimes be pricey, especially if a person wants to use high-end materials, a person just starting out can spend no more than a few dollars for a sketchbook and some writing/drawing utensils (pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc.). It may be helpful to regularly build the costs of art supplies into your budget and slowly upgrade the quality of the materials as it is possible to do so. It may help to think of these supplies as an investment in mental health and sobriety, instead of just paint, markers, and canvases.
Safe Harbor Is Ready to Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we believe in taking a whole-person approach to treatment, recognizing that a person’s mind, body and spirit all deserve healing and support as they make their recovery journey. We also know that a person is part of a network of loved ones, who can also help to strengthen their sobriety.