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A scene from the art studio at McLean Borden Cottage, a luxury rehab in Maine
The first days at rehab can be kind of, well … awkward. You’re in a totally new environment, you’re surrounded by strangers and you’re not sure what to expect. And you have to begin the process of sorting through all the painful and confusing emotions you’ve been experiencing.
That’s where addiction-focused art therapy comes in. Far more than a hokey craft class, art therapy is a sophisticated component of addiction treatment that helps you create a safe space for self-expression, build trust with your treatment team and easily access parts of yourself that other forms of therapy can’t. And at world-class rehabs, art therapy programming is robust, comprehensive and delivered by consummate professionals who have extensive experience using art for therapeutic gain. All of which bodes very, very well for your recovery.
It’s not always easy to put a whirlwind of painful emotions into words. In fact, you may not even be consciously aware of everything you’re experiencing. Communicating visually, however, can be great for those who are having a hard time doing so verbally. And, you can access parts of your subconscious that conventional therapies like CBT don’t reach. During the creative process, things can come out that you’ve never thought of before—meaning huge breakthrough opportunities for you.
“Art therapy works more quickly than talk therapy and a lot of healing happens. It’s exciting to watch a person be vulnerable and be safe in that. I ask questions; I don’t interpret. There is no fear of being analyzed or judged as being a terrible artist,” says one art therapist.
Art therapists provide a safe space for people in recovery to express themselves: they provide direction and facilitate the process between you and your art.1 When you make progress in the studio, you begin to reconnect with your sense of self-worth, and form connections with your counselors. This makes your entire treatment experience more effective and enjoyable.
Because it reaches down to a subconscious level, art therapy can help you uncover the root cause of your addiction. While addiction distorts reality2 , leading us to have a skewed perception of ourselves and those around us, art therapy provides a conduit for self-reflection that ultimately leads to a better, more accurate sense of self.
With each project you complete, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that boosts your progress both in the studio and outside of it. You’ll be able to take that newfound confidence into all other aspects of your treatment—and your life.
There’s an added benefit to all that creative skill-building: you can bring it with you into recovery. A huge part of staying sober is developing healthy ways to deal with the things that used to trigger you to use substances, and creativity is an excellent way to channel uncomfortable emotions into something positive. Using the creative process as a coping mechanism gives you new insight, improves your judgment and helps you deal with stress and process trauma.
Since boredom is one of the most common addiction relapse triggers3 , it’s important to fill the time you used to spend using substances with activities you find fun and interesting. What better way to do that than by turning the skills you picked up into a new hobby?
Getting your hands dirty, pushing paint around a canvas and engaging your sense of wonder unlocks your inner child—a vital connection point for staying in touch with your true self. Art is proven to relieve stress4 by processing emotions and focusing your attention on the beauty around you, all of which results in a happier you! You may even discover a talent or passion you never knew you had.
Not all art therapy programs are created equal. If you’re looking for a rehab center that offers art therapy as a core component of your addiction treatment, your best bet is to go with a luxury rehab. World-class rehabs often offer much more robust specialty programming, with the staff, environment and resources necessary to create the best experience possible.
Look for a rehab that has:
Many art therapists at luxury rehabs hold advanced degrees in art therapy and have extensive experience using art to work through addiction, trauma and mental health disorders. Duffy’s Rehab in Napa Valley staffs a qualified, registered art therapist who are experienced in working with people of all ages and with a wide range of difficulties and diagnoses. The Cabin Chiang Mai’s art therapists integrate art therapy with evidence-based practices for a comprehensive, holistic approach to addiction treatment.
At a luxury rehab, you’ll have every material imaginable at your disposal: pens, pencils, pastels, crayons, paints, plaster of Paris, clay, canvas and paper in all shapes and sizes. You’re not limited in your mediums, and neither is your expression. You can work in whatever feels comfortable and right for you.
Premium rehabs are often set in secluded, naturally beautiful locations—and there’s nothing like connecting with serene natural beauty to let you relax into your environment and get your creative juices flowing. White River Manor’s art studio is housed in a spacious lodge with large doors open onto their 100-year-old garden, the space filled with birdsong, soothing music, aromatherapy candles and paintings, masks and other artworks done by their residents, who may even choose to paint on their walls.
“I don’t think I will be able to do this kind of work in an office environment … because the beauty of the garden actually lends itself to the process of art therapy,” says White River Manor’s art therapist, Marlize van der Merwe.
In short, everyone. Art therapy is effective in treating a plethora of behavioral issues including addiction, anxiety, depression and trauma. And no, you don’t have to be artistically inclined to reap its benefits. You only have to show up with an open mind, and see where the process takes you.
Ready to start your creative recovery journey? See our list of premium rehabs offering art therapy.
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