Art Therapy as a Treatment Approach for Addiction

Withholding your emotions and refusing to deal with them is bad for your psyche. Stuffing them away can negatively impact your relationship with yourself and those around you. With that said, is art therapy really used in treating substance disorders? Can it really be effective and help people recover?


What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy, as the name implies, is a kind of psychotherapy built around using art to communicate and express oneself. It isn’t used for diagnosis and is instead used as a medium to deal with confusing and distressing emotional issues.

While art therapists are influenced by traditional psychoanalysis, they are inspired by theories such as attachment-based psychotherapy. They have established a range of approaches built around their clients including;


  • Mindfulness based treatments
  • Cognitive analytic therapies
  • Psycho-educational treatments
  • Compassion-focused therapies
  • Socially engaged practices


Perhaps most importantly, art therapy has evolved to reflect the cultural and social diversity of those who practice it and rely on it.

Using Art Therapy for Addiction

Art therapy has different goals based on the person doing it and the issues that they need to work through. In general though, it is helpful for anyone facing an emotionally difficult time. Art therapy also helps to define goals and increases the chances that someone can recover from their problems successfully.

What’s great is that the positive outcomes of it can remain long after the treatment and rehabilitation program ends. More often than not, people who undertake art therapy as part of their treatment are able to internalize the benefits of being creative.

The next time they are faced with an emotional problem, issues with impulse control, or some other difficulty in their life, they can open up their art therapy books and be creative again to get past the issue.

Woman paints at art therapy class

The Benefits for Addiction Recovery

Art therapy is something that anyone can benefit from. This begins at childhood and moves up through young people and adolescents that are unable to comfortably and effectively express themselves verbally. As well as helping younger people, art therapy can benefit adults.

Here are some of the practical benefits of undertaking art therapy;


  • Helps to deal with difficulties surrounding social situations
  • Helps to change negative behaviors that are preventing you from recovering
  • Improves and stabilizes mental, emotional, and potentially physical well-being
  • Improves self-image
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Improves social skills
  • Raises overall quality of life
  • Resolves traumatic memories and experiences
  • Reduce mood and psychological disorders that can occur alongside addiction

What is Art Therapy Like?

Art therapy is similar to a guided art class, which is when a teacher guides their students through what they are doing. Art therapies can be provided on an individual or group basis, depending on the person and their needs.

Keep in mind, however, that art therapy is not an art lesson or a straight recreational activity, even though sessions can be fun and enjoyable to participants. Also, there’s no need to worry about having any prior knowledge or experience in art.

Your art therapist will encourage you to properly express yourself through the creative, non-verbal, imaginative exercise. Art therapies encompass a lot of different activities, including;


  • Incident drawings (drawing a particular incident that happened while taking substances)
  • Drawing and painting particular emotions
  • Stress painting (painting when undergoing anxiety and stress to relieve the stressful feelings)
  • Creating sculptures
  • Keeping an art journal

Can Art Therapy Treat Addictions?

The short answer to this question is “maybe”.

Art therapy is currently used as an alternative treatment or to complement substance abuse treatment programs. Further study is necessary to provide evidence that shows the effectiveness of art therapy for addiction treatment. Some addiction treatment centers in Asia now offer art therapy as part of their treatment programs and the results have been positive!

The idea behind it is simple though; by engaging how people feel and perceive things, art helps to shape and change their awareness.

Art therapist at work in office

How Effective is Art Therapy?

There is a long history of art therapy possibly being effective for specific demographics of patients, in particular women and adolescents. The practice of art therapy may be helpful for those who have trouble verbally expressing themselves in particular.

A key part of the effectiveness of art therapy lies in the connection between the client and their therapist, but one difference between art therapy and psychological therapy is that it establishes a third connection; there is the client, the therapist, and the image/artefact being produced.

This means art therapy allows a new way for a client to express themselves and communicate with their therapist.

Art may complement science in helping to understand the human elements involved with addiction and recovery. Furthermore, art therapy is psychoanalytically oriented. It recognises the importance of the unconscious mind as expressed in the dreams and fantasies of a patient.

Art made on the spur of the moment becomes a kind of symbolic speech that can replace words entirely, or merely help to stimulate verbalization throughout the course of therapy. The person comes to understand the meaning and significance of their symbolic expression during this time.


Art Therapy and Addiction Treatment

Art therapies may help children, young people, adults, and the elderly with a variety of diagnoses, disabilities, and difficulties.

Art therapy is a great way to work through the experiences, issues, and emotions that are making addiction problems worse. It provides a safe place where one can communicate their thoughts and ideas and feelings without having to use their words, making it a nice change for those who are after something other than traditional talk-oriented therapy.


Questions About Art Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Still not sure if art therapy is right for you? If you’ve got any questions related to art therapy and whether rehabs in Asia offer it as part of their treatment programs, we’ll be more than happy to answer them as quickly as we can. We always appreciate any feedback and questions that you have!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment