For someone in recovery from a substance use disorder, they may carry a lot of shame around past actions which hurt family members and friends. Because these feelings are likely difficult to express verbally, art can be a helpful avenue for healing and expression.
What art therapy isn’t
People tend to think of art therapy in simple terms. Someone hands you a sheet of construction paper and some markers, right?
No. Trained art therapists know how to pull feelings, memories and trauma from individuals without verbal communication. It sounds pretty tricky—and it is.
Verbal communication has limitations. Sometimes, an experience is too painful to put into words. Other times, repressed memories block an individual’s ability to talk it out.
According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), art therapists engage the mind, body and spirit, using kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual and symbolic techniques. These techniques pull expression without saying anything out loud.
Expressive therapy, like art or music therapy, is a way for people to express themselves creatively without the need to verbalize their inner world constantly.
Isn’t art therapy just coloring?
While it’s true that art has value as a stress reliever, any art project doesn’t equal expressive therapy.
Think of it like this. As a kid, didn’t you love getting a new box of crayons? All those sharp, colorful points sticking out of the nice, clean box. Maybe you found yourself getting lost with a coloring book that accompanied the crayons. After finishing a work of coloring, you probably felt good.
However, chances are, you and your parents lacked the training and capacity to see inside your deep inner workings by looking at your colored picture of a dinosaur. The same is true for adult coloring. Stress-relieving? Of course, creative activities are relaxing. Therapeutic? Only with a trained art therapist who understands expressive therapy.
What is art therapy like?
During an expressive therapy session, either music or art, the therapist will first get a sense of your specific recovery goals. Then, with art therapy, you are asked to create. Or, you may be asked to consider another work of art or music. This art could include painting, collages, clay or a variety of other methods.
When asked to work on a project, the therapist may simply observe you working without judgment.
How you work can give big clues into different struggles. For instance, if you have a hard time starting or maybe throw away something because it’s “not good enough,” the therapist could interpret a thread of perfectionism or maybe difficulty focusing.
Once the artwork is complete, you and the art therapist can examine the work for other clues. Art therapists are trained to see details and nuances in work the average eye will miss.
What makes an art therapist?
Most art therapists have a minimum of a master’s degree, often with a combination of psychotherapy training and visual arts training, according to the AATA. The initials “ATR” show the therapist is registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). Also, some therapists may have ATR-BC after their name, which means they are both registered and passed a board exam to become certified by the ATCB.
Keep an open mind with expressive therapy. Not only is art a terrific method of soothing a troubled mind, but artistic expressions also provide clues when it comes to difficult issues. Sometimes, a person can paint a feeling better than they can verbalize it.
Read more on the Psychology.com website.
At The Ranch Pennsylvania, we work to heal our clients through mind, body and soul activities. Through expressive therapy, we support clients in their creative endeavors while diving deep into their inner world to help heal the core of their addiction cycle.
To find out more about our programs, including art therapy,
call us today at 717.969.9126.