What Is Creative Arts Therapy?
Creative arts therapy is a therapeutic process that uses creative interventions just as painting and origami to encourage individuals to express and understand themselves, to relax, and to fully experience recovery and well-being. Creative arts therapy can be especially beneficial for individuals who have experienced trauma or loss and can be used in substance abuse treatment as a non-traditional outlet for free expression, both in an unconscious and conscious manner.
In creative arts therapy sessions, clients are invited to work with new and familiar materials to create imagery or objects that aid in a deeper exploration of themselves, the world, their emotions, and the struggles they face. This encourages clients to gradually break down the barriers and walls they have put up to protect themselves and find a more productive and healthy way to express their feelings. The focus of creative arts therapy sessions is not the final art product, but the process itself. A person does not have to be a renowned artist to reap the benefits of art therapy. Instead, you must simply engage in the material and focus on creating a work of art. The final product is merely a reflection of the self-investment the client put into the activity, but the process is one that is full of healing. Many times clients will leave feeling happy or proud of the work they have accomplished, and the underlying messages they discover in their own work can improve self-awareness.
A study published in the Journal of Addiction Nursing found that incorporating art and music therapy programs was associated with more positive results than programs that did not offer these therapies. Both art and music therapy encourage you to express yourself through creating art and experiencing music. The arts are strongly tied to emotion and emotional responses. Through art therapy you are more likely to explore your emotions and express them through another outlet in addition to talk therapy.
Benefits of Creative Arts Therapy
- Increases self-esteem
- Improves physical, emotional, and mental well-being
- Helps clients work through or resolve personal issues
- Assists in teaching clients how to manage their behaviors and feelings
- Improves self-awareness
- Increases clients’ abilities to cope with symptoms of stress and anxiety
How Creative Arts Therapy Is Used in Addiction Treatment
Creative arts therapy is facilitated on an individual and a group level in addiction treatment. Art therapy directives and assessment are used formally or informally as a tool to create productive conversations. For example, an art therapist may use a Bridge Drawing to create a conversation about past experiences, anticipated obstacles, goals, spirituality, the outlook of treatment efficacy, and confidence in the journey. This tool, in particular, can be used early in addiction treatment and revisited later in drug and alcohol rehab.
Clients in drug and alcohol rehab will participate in a number of creative art projects to reinforce skills like problem-solving and asking for help, while also creating opportunities to explore stress reduction techniques and coping mechanisms. Some of these activities may include:
- Art journaling
- Scribble drawings
- Mindful doodling
The discussions that follow each directive will vary based on the project, but often times it involves an open discussion of the process, detailing the struggles each client faces and how that relates to the struggles they face with anger or emotional regulation, stress management, or their substance abuse.
In some instances, clients will also practice reflective distancing, which requires that they create a piece of art and then write about it for five minutes before presenting it to the group. This teaches the client how to reflect on the image, become conscious of any unconscious processes, and learn how to process the image from a whole perspective. Reflective distancing is a tool that art therapists use to encourage clients to become more aware of themselves and seek solutions for moving forward if they are struggling with a particular emotion or concept.
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