Last Updated on November 22, 2019 by Morris Green
The earliest known preserved pieces of art, found in an Indonesian cave, are at least 40,000 years old: creativity is an essential part of being human, and art has helped people explore the world and their emotions throughout history. For this reason, art in its many forms can play an important role in recovery, as it helps people to process and understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Art is used in therapy for those recovering from addiction, and can effectively help people by allowing them to access their unconscious minds and work through the difficult experiences associated with addiction in a safe way.
Accessing The Unconscious Mind
Language isn’t easily applied to the unconscious mind, which communicates with us through a complex mix of dreams, imagery and metaphor. Because art is composed of images, art therapy can help people to understand their unconscious minds and reach deeply buried emotions in a way that they can’t access through talk therapy. It allows people to feel the full range of their emotions, which have commonly been pushed down by drugs and alcohol, and explore these feelings safely.
Art, in whichever form it takes, be it drawing, painting or sculpture, can allow people to express things they’re unable to say, and has been successful in reducing symptoms of depression, which is often a part of addiction recovery. A Swedish study of 43 participants found that patients improved an average of nearly five steps on a depression rating scale following a course of art therapy. Creating artistic representations of emotions, whether they’re abstract or literal, in the form of drawing emotions on a human face, for example, can allow you to understand your feelings and provide an outlet for expression when talking may be too difficult.
The Therapeutic Power Of Art
Art therapy encourages participants to create representations of their inner imagery to express and understand their thoughts. Often this imagery has been buried inside someone for a long time, and the creation of art can provide a safe space to explore negative images from childhood, helping the person to replace them with positive images of themselves and their place in the world.
Art therapy commonly uses three techniques to help someone explore their internal life. Gestalt methods are used, in which the therapist helps someone work through their current feelings, using art as a tool to explain their thoughts. A second technique uses an artistic creation as a starting point for free association, using active imagination to spark a discussion about the person’s feelings. The third technique, known as a ‘third-hand’ approach, involves assistance from the therapist in the creation of the art, using dialogue along the way to explore thoughts and feelings.
Navigating Shame To Prevent Relapse
Many people recovering from addiction feel guilt and shame that they find difficult to express. Art therapy helps them to process these emotions in order to prevent relapse, with feelings of shame being more easily expressed through imagery than through words. Similarly, it can help people navigate their feelings around past traumas, which can otherwise bubble to the surface and trigger relapse, allowing people to process the feelings they may have been trying to address with drink or drugs.
Addiction recovery is a long and complex process, and it often involves navigating difficult thoughts and emotions. Art therapy can be used to explore these feelings in a safe environment, helping people to work through the issues that they have previously used drugs or alcohol to cope with. Creativity is an important part of being human, and it evolved to help us understand the world: it’s clear to see why it would be an effective form of therapy in addressing complex human experiences.