Art therapy can be a wonderful addition to other features of treatment for anyone working on their recovery.  Along with things like individual therapy, group therapy, family counseling, twelve step meetings, and other core services, therapy that includes artistic expression has been shown to help people that are working on moving away from their addiction in many ways.   Some treatment programs incorporate art therapy directly into their schedules, but it is also something that the client can continue on his or her own once leaving the treatment facility, either independently or in conjunction with visits to a therapist or counselor.


According to Art Therapy: The Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, individuals participating in artistic therapy can use creative activities to help express themselves, and in doing so, they can help themselves in working through confusing feelings or deeply engrained pain.  It’s a great break from the intensity of direct and spoken therapy methods that can sometimes be difficult for the subject to endure for long periods, and it is often through art that an individual is more easily able to express feelings that he or she is unable to vocalize in words.  It can be especially helpful for people with underlying psychological issues related to addiction such as abuse, but it can really be helpful for all who are working on their recovery.

In addition to the obvious benefit of helping the individual make something beautiful from his or her pain, there are many other benefits as well.  Participating in art therapy can assist the individual in uncovering and dealing with feelings of guilt and shame, and can help them to manage the barrage of emotions they may be feeling during this transitory time. Further, it can help the person build self-esteem, reduce his or her levels of anxiety, and aid him or her in becoming self-aware.  And further, discussing art with others can help with building social skills, too.  Through art, a person can begin to explore, understand, and resolve issues that he or she may not feel comfortable expressing in normal conversation.

Art Therapy in a Addiction Treatment Setting

Art therapy has been used in substance abuse treatment since the 1950s, and has grown in application since then.  Today, nearly 36% of treatment programs incorporate artistic expression in some way.  Therapists who use it with their patients’ main goals are to help their clients return to a place of healthy social, emotional, and cognitive functioning, and to give them an outlet for their emotions that they can use onward into the future independently as well.

The Journal of Addictions Nursing states that art therapy can contribute to the recovery process through decreasing the client’s denial of addiction, increasing the client’s motivation to change, providing a safe outlet for painful emotions, and lessening the shame of addiction.   When applied in a guided, therapeutic environment, there are many methods that therapists or counselors may use to help guide client participation.  For example, through the active imagination method, the client can use his or her artwork as a starting point leading to free association, which opens the door to introspection and emotional discussion with a professional.  In the Gestalt method, the therapist helps the client work out his or her current feelings and experiences, using the art to introduce deeper conversation, allowing the client to explain his or her thoughts more clearly or even encouraging him or her to explain the artwork from the artwork’s point of view.   In a process called incident drawings, the client illustrates his or her feelings of being self-destructive or out of control, which can lead to deeper discussions with the therapist about the need for change. The “third hand” approach, the therapist actually participates in the creation of the artwork, with the guidance of the client leading the way – thereby allowing the therapist to have a deeper understanding of the client’s feelings through the actual process as the work unfolds and develops.  Each of these methods helps open the doors to discussion and gives the client a starting point to work from for self-realization and personal development with therapist assistance.  Also, in a group therapy setting, art can provide a physical, tangible object that can help to encourage discussion with peers as well.

Independent Art Therapy

What’s great about using art as a therapy is the fact that the client can also use it independently, outside of the therapeutic setting, and still have great results.  Art certainly can help an individual in recovery in expressing himself or herself to a counselor or therapist, but it also can be useful for simple relaxation and focus elsewhere as well.  Anyone who has ever made art of any kind before knows that it is a way of visually communication with oneself or others, and that it can inspire personal breakthroughs of many kinds.  It also is a method of self-reflection, can build self-confidence, and aid in all kinds of emotional healing.  Art is a way to get to know oneself better, and is a healthy way of working through all sorts of frustrations and feelings, and also allows us to express joy.   Furthermore, individuals in recovery may find that it helps them to avoid relapse, as it is a great thing to turn to when a healthy distraction is necessary; many people will find they can get lost in art and creation for hours when the time is right.

There are so many different disciplines in the art world; it’s likely that anyone can find one that is right for them with a little effort, and perhaps even more than one will appeal to an individual with just a little experimentation and practice.

  • Painting – Although painting can seem challenging at first, there are so many styles and methods, its likely there is something for everyone. The American Art Therapy Association says that painting can help foster self-awareness and self-esteem, reduce stress, and ignite dulled emotions.  There are classes offered in almost every community to help people hone their skills.  Also, if painting seems too intimidating, some suggest coloring books or paint by numbers as a good starting point.
  • Drawing – Using pencil, colored pencils, charcoal, or crayons to draw can be very relaxing and can help to clear the mind. Carrying a small sketchbook might encourage you to use your free time getting images on paper and can help keep you busy and focused during tough times.  Although it may seem difficult at first, once you have developed a style and technique, drawing can be very meditative and can be a great way to express oneself.
  • Sculpting – Sculpting is a quite and introspective activity that gives people the opportunity to create something from nothing – and can be done with a variety of materials, including clay, wire, wood, metal, glass, or even trash! Like painting, many community centers offer classes to help get you started.
  • Dancing – There are not many things that can be done almost anytime, and almost anywhere – but dancing is one of them! This whole body exercise requires focus and concentration, and encourages body awareness.  Whether you like to freeform dance to your favorite tunes, or want to take lessons in a specific discipline, dancing is fun for all, and is good for you, too.
  • Acting – Acting gives people a chance to be someone else for a period, and immerse themselves in a different world. It also allows us to more easily see things from a different perspective and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  It is an art form that is very interactive, and therefore also helps to build social skills, and is a confidence builder as well.
  • Music, Singing, & Songwriting – There are a great deal of opportunities for instruction in the musical realm, but it’s also something that can be enjoyed independently. Music involves practice, dedication, and deep focus, and is a great way to express emotions that may be difficult to express in words.
  • Poetry/Creative Writing – Journaling is therapeutic and helps individuals who do it regularly to deal with their emotions and memories, and get their stories and narratives out on paper. Writing a bit every day can help with healing and promotes positive changes.  Even if the author is hesitant to share what he or she has written with others, writing helps to organize thoughts and gives the writer an opportunity to understand himself or herself more deeply.  Even fiction can help writers get in touch with their own emotions through their characters, and like acting, gives an indvidiual a chance to view the world through someone else’s eyes in many ways.
  • Jewelry Making – Making jewelry can require a lot of time and focus, and can give individuals in recovery the opportunity to make something beautiful from their pain and struggles. It can help rebuild self-esteem, and a finished piece of jewelry can be a keepsake from a time and place to give to a loved one or to keep always as a reminder to stay on the healthy path.
  • Collage – If you feel as if drawing or painting is too difficult or not your thing, cutting out pictures and making collages can be a great alternative. This art form can be very therapeutic as the artist manipulates unrelated images or objects into a cohesive project.   It can sometimes take a lot of focus and planning to get the desired point across, but that’s where the challenge lies – as well as the great reward, once the project is complete.

Whether an individual chooses to explore the world of art therapy independently or with the help and guidance of a counselor or therapist, its clear that there are many paths and options and that the benefits are broad and varied.  Certainly, art is a part of life and it is a great way to connect with the self, focus on positive changes, and work one’s way through past and current challenges.  Consider taking a dive into this unique sort of therapeutic work, and the possibilities are endless – and you might just find a new way to express yourself that you will cherish always!

Please contact us at Clear Sky Recovery if you’d like more information about what ibogaine is and what it can do for you and how ibogaine treatment may fit into your unique situation and set of circumstances.  If you’d like to discuss possibilities for art therapy for addiction, we would love to talk to you about that as well.  We look forward to hearing from you soon.