4 MIN READ | Positive Psychology

Adam Mulligan

The Role of Art Therapy in Addiction Recovery

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Adam Mulligan, (2022, June 2). The Role of Art Therapy in Addiction Recovery. Psychreg on Positive Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/role-art-therapy-addiction-recovery/
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Unfortunately, we live in a day and age when more and more young people are getting addicted. This means that the need for addiction treatment centers is only increasing as well as the need for alternative additional therapy methods. For that reason, today’s addiction treatment centers not only include individual and group therapy sessions, but also a variety of alternative therapies that help residents rehabilitate. Of course, with the help of dedicated mental health and addiction specialists. One of those therapies is art therapy and in this article, we’ll talk about how to use it in addiction recovery. But as art therapy is used combined with traditional therapy methods, we’ll first introduce you to them.

Traditional therapy methods in addiction recovery

Addiction is more than just a physical dependence on a substance or certain experience. Oftentimes, addiction is just a symptom of a much deeper psychological issue or issues. Therapy in addiction recovery helps those who are new to it identify those underlying issues, develop healthy coping skills, and learn how to deal with the stressors and triggers they encounter in their daily lives. And these are just some of the benefits of professional counseling.

Given that each addict has a unique personality and skill set when it comes to dealing with their addiction, there are numerous types of therapy that can be adapted to meet his or her specific needs. Here are the three most common types of therapy you can come across in addiction treatment centers:

  • Individual therapy, often known as psychotherapy or talk therapy, consists of guided one-on-one sessions. The patient and an expert therapist discuss their ideas, feelings, and experiences related to their addiction.
  • Group therapy aims to help people overcome their feelings of isolation when they first start treatment. Small groups of 6 to 10 people participate in group therapy guided by a group therapist or counselor.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is likely the most widely utilized therapy method. CBT can help people in recovery uncover the thinking processes, beliefs, and attitudes that lead to their addiction. Patients will learn how to modify those tendencies and establish good ways of thinking and feeling about themselves.

Art therapy: what is it and how to use it in addiction recovery?

As a part of addiction treatment, people will have plenty of alternative therapy methods to choose from. Given that every addict is different, the team from brightfuturestreatment.com advises that it’s important to find an individual approach, tailored specifically to that person.. 

The best way to achieve this is by combining traditional types of treatment with alternative ones. One of those alternatives is art therapy and combining it with traditional therapy methods gives a person different outlets for expression and healing.

What is art therapy?

In art therapy, a person uses his imagination and creativity to create art that is beneficial and constructive for them. Art therapy aims to help people enhance their communication skills in order to better communicate their feelings.

Art therapy implies all kinds of art. From painting, sculpting, and drawing to dancing, singing, acting, or writing poetry. Remember, it’s all about finding what the person feels good doing the most. After all, that’s the only way to get the desired results. 

Benefits of using art therapy in addiction recovery

Nowadays, many rehab centers include art therapy as part of their addiction treatment. The reason is simple – art therapy has the capacity to teach residents nonaddictive self-soothing strategies as well as improve affect management. Also, it will help residents increase their positive self-image through self-expression and encourage healthy self-reflection.

Let’s take Dr Carl Jung, the father of art therapy as an example. He experienced a mental breakdown in adulthood that rendered him unable to work. This gave him time to think about his boyhood, recalling how he used to play with toy troops and doodle when he was feeling down.

He realized this was the last time he felt truly happy so he tried playing with toys and drawing again in order to feel better. And he did! Jung wrote in his book that these activities provided him the power to get through his grief. This also strengthened his idea that humans had the ability to heal themselves if given the right tools.

How to use art therapy in addiction recovery?

As per SAMHSA’s Group Therapy guide, art therapy is a sort of expressive group therapy that can help people express thoughts and feelings that they may not be able to convey verbally. People who have underlying psychological disorders related to their addiction, such as a history of abuse, benefit most from this therapy.

Art therapy provides an opportunity to explore, comprehend, and resolve difficulties in a person’s life that he may not feel comfortable talking about in a typical discussion. Creating art is frequently a nonverbal process that increases the ways a person can express thoughts and feelings. 

Techniques to use in art therapy

When it comes to art therapy in addiction recovery, professionals most often use the following three methods:

  • The Gestalt method is a technique where the therapist assists the client in processing their current feelings and experiences. They’ll further use the artwork as a springboard for a more in-depth discussion. It can also be a tool for the person to express themselves by describing their artwork.
  • Active imagination means letting a person’s thoughts wander in spontaneous free associations. This will open the door to introspection, reflection, and discussion about their feelings.
  • The ‘third-hand’ approach adds the therapist’s assistance to the equation. Even though the therapist assists in the creation of the art, the patient retains full control over the overall artistic vision.

Final thoughts

People undergoing addiction treatment benefit from art therapy because it helps them understand and manage their addiction. Both art therapy and traditional therapy aim to help a person develop insight and healthy coping skills. However, art therapy can be an excellent approach for people to explore parts of their lives that they might not be able to express in a conversational manner. In case you’re struggling with an addiction, we strongly recommend trying art therapy as a part of your healing journey. And don’t forget to stay informed about mental health, psychology, and wellness.


Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.


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