Recovery and Art Therapy
Whether creating it yourself or just enjoying looking at it, art is an inspiring and relaxing activity which many people love. However, artistic expression goes further than enjoyment and relaxation. In fact, studies have recently shown that art as a form of therapy during recovery can be extremely valuable when it comes to treating problems like PTSD, anxiety, depression and even phobias. Why is art so useful? It’s an excellent way of expressing emotions without needing to use words, to process difficult feelings and to find relief. Here, we’ll look more closely at how art can help during recovery and examine the benefits it can offer for better mental health.
Art Therapy During Recovery – What Is It?
There are several ways to define art therapy. However, the easiest is simply to say that it’s application of visual arts within a therapeutic context. There’s no need to actually visit a therapist to experience the therapeutic benefits which come with artistic expression. In fact, there are a number of activities which those in recovery can try at home which involve the use of art to find relief. Sketching, collage-making, painting, sculpting… using all types of media can be helpful. The only real thing to matter is whether the individual feels comfortable with using it.
While it’s possible to benefit from artistic expression working alone, for those in recovery it can be even more advantageous to see help from a professional therapist. Those who are skilled and knowledgeable in the field can tailor art activities to suit the unique needs of the individual. Art therapy can be carried out as a solo activity or as part of a group exercise to build up positive connections with others. This can be extremely beneficial for those who are combating depression. Expressing oneself through art, however, may be as painful and self-revealing as talking therapies, so it’s important for individuals to feel ready to try it before embarking on art therapy.
Who Can Benefit From Art Therapy?
Anybody who is in recovery and who wants to explore their issues can benefit from trying art therapy. Creating art improves mental well-being in those who are coping with a broad spectrum of disorders including ADD and ADHD, dementia, addictions, anxiety, depression, grief, eating disorders, TSD, physical illnesses, relationship problems, trauma and more. Some people are worried about trying art therapy as they have concerns that they feel as if they lack the necessary skill. It’s important for those undergoing art therapy to recognize that it isn’t about being a good artist. It’s about finding connection and meaning in their lives.
Art Therapy As Part Of A Group
While some individuals in recovery find that they enjoy better progress when undergoing art therapy on a one-to-one basis with a therapist, others find that group art therapy is the best course of action for them. Sharing artistic processes and outcomes is a key part of any art therapy group. By viewing work and discussing it with not only a therapist but also peers, individuals allow others to witness their healing process while also validating their own experiences.
This is an especial strength of group art therapy – the ability to explore personal and creative discoveries and to share them with others strengthens the ability to express emotions, social bonds and helps with integration into a healing community. Resilience is one of the main outcomes of group art therapy since personal strengths and reparation are frequently realized. By sharing one’s own story with others within the group and listening to the stories of others, individuals in recovery can become stronger and heal more effectively.
What Mental Health Benefits Does Art Therapy Provide?
Art therapy is a useful complement to other traditional treatments during recovery from mental health issues. The primary aim is to learn how to process feelings, manage behaviors, boost self-esteem and reduce anxiety and stress more effectively. Some of the benefits of art therapy during recovery include:
- Self-discovery – by creating art, it’s possible to learn to recognize and acknowledge challenging feelings and emotions which have been hiding in the subconscious.
- Self-esteem – the process of creating art gives sufferers a feeling that they have accomplished something. This is valuable to improving self-confidence and self-appreciation.
- Emotional release – one of the top benefits of art therapy is that it provides a healthy outlet to let go of fears and express feelings. Complex emotions like anger and sadness are difficult to express verbally. When self-expression is difficult but emotional release is needed, creating art can be extremely helpful.
- Stress relief – combating emotional trauma, depression and anxiety is stressful, both physically and mentally. Art therapy helps to relieve that stress and bring relaxation to the body and mind.
Dopamine Release From Art Therapy
One of the reasons why art has been proven to be so beneficial in recovery is because it stimulates dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is released whenever humans experience pleasure. It makes individuals feel happier and therefore, increased dopamine levels are helpful for anyone in recovery from depression or anxiety. Some doctors are now prescribing art activities to patients in an attempt to reduce hospital admissions and to promote overall health and well-being.
Art During Addiction Recovery
Some addicts are under the misapprehension that drinking alcohol or taking drugs makes them more creative. In fact, addiction can stifle creativity. Nevertheless, being creative has a vital role to play in helping addicts to recover from their illness. Lots of people who suffer from addiction to alcohol or drugs have alexithymia. This is a term which describes those who fail to understand the way they feel. They find that they’re unable to put their emotions into words. By taking creative approaches like art therapy, addicts can better express their challenging feelings, memories and thoughts without being restricted by words.
A Deeper Self-Understanding
To heal during recovery, it’s important to have an understanding of the causes of the problem. To come to a deeper self-understanding. Art therapy allows sufferers to go beyond language’s limits, inviting them to express themselves freely in new and multisensory ways, opening up new self-discovery possibilities. Art therapy gives concrete shape to things which are psychologically distressing, using creative processes to unlock subconscious beliefs, thoughts and emotions which prevent sufferers from moving forwards. Artistic expression allows sufferers to reveal a part of themselves which they may not be able to access via other verbal therapeutic treatments, and this enables significant breakthroughs to be experienced as individuals begin to know themselves fully. The creative processes involved in making art becomes an effective way to regulate and improve mood and to relieve feelings of anxiety and depression, offering new self-care avenues.
Art Leads To Empowerment
Art therapy is not only a way to process negative feelings and experiences, it also allows the individual in recovery to see themselves beyond their problems and to envision a whole new future. For lots of people who are in recovery, it can be most difficult to express hope. This is especially true if someone has relapsed in the past and fears they will never make a full recovery from their issues. Yet as humans, we are remarkably resilient and art therapy gives individuals the tools they need to represent their dreams, healing mantras and goals in a visual way so their recovery can be guided.
Art allows those in recovery to not only focus on the things they want to put behind them, but also on the way they want to live in the future – what they wish to gain and who they want to become. During the process of healing, many people who have participated in art therapy find that they go back time and again to the artworks that they have produced to gain clarity, resolve and strength as they work on rebuilding their lives.
Creative processes bring a feeling of freedom and joy which remind the individual of the possibilities that life can hold when they are fully recovered. Via artistic creation, they can visualize and explore their authentic selves while also developing fresh expressive abilities which are deeply rewarding.
The Healing Of Creative Experiences
Creative experiences are healing in several ways. Some of these include:
- Finding a way to get through shame and guilt. Those who are in addiction recovery feel shame and guilt which is hard to express verbally. Creative approaches allow them to process those feelings so a relapse isn’t triggered. Research has revealed that feelings of shame can more easily be expressed through symbolism or imagery than words.
- Opportunities for vicarious healing. Someone who has been through a trauma but who isn’t ready yet to discuss it may find they can describe their feelings and suffering through art. When a therapist guides their process, they can use creative approaches as an entry point to eventually talking about pain instead of trying to escape or avoid it.
- Regulation of emotions. When someone engages in creative activities, new channels are opened to connect with emotions. Partaking in art activities reduces negative emotional states while fostering a healing environment.
- Helps in dealing with loss. Talking therapies have been used for some time as the standard approach to helping those who have suffered a loss. Studies have revealed that creative pursuits can help those who have been through a loss or a life transition to get through the process of recovery more quickly and more effectively than those who rely on standard talking therapies alone.
- Supports proficiency in other areas. Those who try artistic pursuits don’t just become more creative, they also increase their proficiency in other areas of their life. Art can improve a sufferer’s ability to recover more quickly from stress.
- Increases playfulness. When someone is in recovery, they often forget how it feels to be carefree and childlike. Creative pursuits like art help individuals to connect with a more light-hearted, fun part of themselves. Art promotes play and helps those in recovery to feel better in control of their own environment.
- Creates chances for flow. Lots of artists say that they are often lost within their creative processes. Creativity can actually change the way the brain works, allowing the artist to have a purer, uninterrupted focus. This is known as “flow”. When someone in recovery experiences “flow” they become involved completely within the art activity for no other reason than for its own sake. This helps people to feel more fulfilled and to live in the moment.
The process of recovery is different for everyone. This is why it’s vital for recovery programs to offer sufferers a mix of different therapeutic approaches. Talking therapies which require verbal expression, such as CBT are often beneficial. However, art therapy and other less-verbal therapies are useful for those who struggle to articulate their experiences and thoughts to a group or to a therapist on a one-to-one basis. Art therapy allows counsellors to break down barriers and to get through to the root cause of problems.
Using Art As A Recovery Tool
For those who are going through recovery, life can seem to be filled with challenges. For some sufferers, even seeing a therapist for treatment can seem too challenging, with for others, the idea of sharing deep emotions and feelings can seem a step too far. In such cases, art therapy can be a vital recovery tool, enabling individuals to use a non-verbal outlet to express their innermost thoughts without having to find the words to do so.
Whether having art therapy as part of a group, on a one-to-one basis with a trained therapist, or even as an individual at home without any professional guidance, it’s clear that creative pursuits have a key part to play in getting better and learning how to cope with the difficult situations that life presents on an everyday basis. By facilitating a means by which complex thoughts and experiences can be put into a physical form then shared and discussed, art can represent a helpful addition to conventional talking therapies and other traditional treatments in recovery.
Don’t hesitate: if you think you may benefit from art therapy and inpatient treatment in order to help you manage your struggles with mental health issues, an eating disorder, or addiction and help you develop coping mechanisms that are better for you, contact The Meadowglade today to see if we make a good fit.