The efficacy of art therapy groups in addiction treatment

Art therapies can help raise self-esteem. They also provide an opportunity to create new experiences. But, what is art therapy, really? How is it used in the treatment of addiction? Find more in the text that follows.

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Withholding emotions can be very hurtful for your psyche. In fact, stuffing feelings can negatively affect your relationship with self and others. But is art therapy used in the treatment of addiction and substance use disorders. Is it effective? How can art help you heal?

If you are wondering if there are alternative ways to release what’s deep inside – continue reading to learn more about art therapy and its use as a part of the addiction treatment process. We address what you need to know about art therapy here, but if you still have questions at the end, we invite your thoughts and questions in the comments section. We appreciate ALL feedback and try to reply presonally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing.

Although influenced by psychoanalysis, art therapists have been inspired by theories such as attachment-based psychotherapy and have developed a broad range of client-centered approaches such as:

  • psycho-educational treatment(s)
  • mindfulness and mentalization based treatments
  • compassion focused therapies
  • cognitive analytic therapies
  • socially engaged practices

Most importantly, art therapy practice has evolved to reflect the cultural and social diversity of the people who engage in it.

Outcomes of art therapy for addiction

The goals of art therapy can be different based on the individual issues an addict needs to work on. But, in general, art therapy can help anytime you are facing a dificult and serious emotional challenge. Art therapy can also help define goals and boost chances for successful recovery.

Moreover, the positive outcomes of art therapy for addiction can persist long after the formal treatment or rehabilitation program is over. Oftentimes, people who’ve attended art therapy during their treatment period will have internalized the benefits that being creative can offer. So, when faced with an emotional turmoil, a life difficulty, or a struggle with impulse control, people can go back to their art therapy books and start to create again.

What are the benefits of art therapy for addiction?

Basically, anyone can benefit from art therapy. This starting at childhood and moves up into youth and adolescents who are often less capable and less comfortable with expessing themselves verbally. In addition to young individuals, adults can also benefit from art therapy. Here are some benefits you can have from engaging in art therapy:

  • Aids you when encountering difficulaties in social situations
  • Help change negative behaviors that are sabotaging the recovery process
  • Improves or stabilizes your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being
  • Improves self-image
  • Improves your social skills
  • Increases your self-esteem
  • Raises your quality of life
  • Reduces mood and psychological dissorders that can be co-occuring to addiction
  • Resolves past traumatic experiences and memories

What is art therapy like?

Art therapy is a lot like a directed art class you may have had in school with a teacher who serves as a guide. Art therapy is provided in groups or individually, depending on the needs. However, it is not a recreational activity or an art lesson, although the sessions can be enjoyable. Also, you do not need to have any previous experience or expertise in art.

With the help of a licensed art therapist, you will be encouraged to express youself through a non-verbal, imaginative, and creative exercise. Art therapy includes an array of activities, including:

  • incident drawings (a drawing of an incident that occurred while using substances)
  • drawing or painting emotions
  • stress painting (painting during times of anxiety and/or stress in order to relieve feelings of stress)
  • creating an art journal
  • creating sculptures

Does art therapy work to treat addiction?


At the moment, art therapy is used mainly as a complementary and alternative treatment practices in substance abuse treatment programs. More study is required to provide evidence as to its effectivenes in the use of addiction treatment. But the basic idea is this: By engaging people’s feelings and perceptions, art can help change awareness.

How effective is art therapy for addiction?

Art therapy has a history of suggested effectiveness with specific patient populations, including adolescents and women. This practice can be particularly helpful for people who find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings verbally.

The relationship between the therapist and the client is of a central importance to the effectiveness of the modality, but art therapy differs from other psychological therapies by establishing a three way process between the client, the therapist and the image or artefact. Thus, it offers the opportunity to express and communicate.

Art can complement science in developing a thorough understanding of the human dimensions of addiction and recovery. Further, art therapy is psychoanalytically oriented, recognizing the fundamental importance of the unconscious as expressed in the patient’s dreams, day dreams and fantasies. Spontaneous graphic art becomes a form of symbolic speech which may serve as a substitute for words or as a stimulus which leads to an increase of verbalization in the course of therapy. Then, a person’s capacity to understand the meaning of his/her symbolic expression takes place in this process.

Art therapy and the treatment of addiction

Art therapy can work for children, young people, adults and the elderly with a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. Art therapy can be a great way for you to work through the experiences, emotions, and issues that have led to and worsened your addiction. It offers a safe place to communicate ideas and feelings without using standard conversational methods, and it can therefore be a refreshing change for anyone who is looking for something different than standard talk-focused therapy.

Art therapy for addiction treatment questions

Do you still wonder if art therapy is for you, or not? If you have a question related to art therapy for addiction we will be glad to provide you with personal and prompt answer. All you need to do is post your question in the following section. We also appreciate your feedback and comments.

Reference Sources: Book – Addiction and Art edited by Patricia B. Santora, Margaret L. Dowell, and Jack E. Henningfield
NCBI: The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
BAAT: What is art therapy?
Book – The Handbook of Art Therapy by Caroline Case, Tessa Dalle
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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