Art therapy in addiction rehab and recovery settings: INTERVIEW with Royal Life Centers

How can art therapy be best integrated into a rehab setting? What are some ways that people in early recovery can express or explore issues through art? A Q&A here with a rehab in Florida who is using art therapy…to discover and recover!

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Art therapy during rehab

Art therapy is a healing modality intended to integrate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual care by facilitating creative ways for patients to respond to their recovery process. This kind of therapy helps you release repressed feelings as you become aware of them. But what are some of the best practices in facilitating art therapy in a rehab setting? What can art therapy achieve and what are its limitations?

Michael Kulick, MSW, CAP, RCSWI, is Clinical Director at Royal Life Centers, a substance abuse treatment facility located in Florida. Today, we discuss art therapy as way of stimulating creativity and its role in addiction rehabilitation. If you have any additional questions, comments or would like to share an experience about art and addiction, please leave us a message in the comments section at the bottom of the page. We try to respond to all comments with a personal and prompt reply.

ADDICTION BLOG: What is considered “art” in art therapy? For example, does music apply?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Art is considered any form of media by which our clients are able to express themselves. Music absolutely applies and is an integral piece of our overall program; our recording studio (Sober Studios) is a space in which our clients are able to artistically express themselves and discover their creativity.

ADDICTION BLOG: What about live theater arts? Or is art therapy pretty restricted to traditional media?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: There is no restriction to art therapy and no limits to its uses. Those who wish to engage in this form of healing are free to explore which mediums work for them without judgment or limitations.

ADDICTION BLOG: What is the first concept of “art” that you need to unlearn when applying art therapy in an addiction treatment center?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: So many of our clients hear the word “art” and automatically believe that they are not “talented” enough to participate. This self-judgment needs to be unlearned.

Art is not a perfect form of expression, as nothing in life is perfect. To express oneself freely, without judgment or a harsh inner-critic, is to truly heal and begin working towards self-love and self-acceptance.

ADDICTION BLOG: What is an example of what might happen in an art therapy class? Can you give us a typical class break down?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: The class begins with an exercise to check in with each client and gain an awareness of each individual’s emotional and mental space. Next, the group facilitator presents a topic of focus for the day; this topic may be a new artistic technique on which the clients will focus for the session or a specific theme or idea on which to reflect and intuitively express themselves. The creative process during this time of expression is paralleled with our clients’ journey in recovery; equal growth is made during challenges of their process as is made in reaching their destination.

ADDICTION BLOG: People in early addiction recovery are notoriously hard on themselves. What is the ideal attitude that people in recovery can take when exploring creativity?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Exploration of creativity is a beautiful process because an individual is able to internally connect on a higher spiritual level. This process requires letting go of self-judgment and accepting that perfection is unattainable; we are beautifully flawed and that is okay.

ADDICTION BLOG: Does art therapy help people develop emotional intelligence? If so, how?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Art therapy can be an integral tool to help develop emotional intelligence. Understanding one’s emotions and being able to express them in a healthy manner is the basis of interpersonal communication and developing healthy relationships, both with self and others. By participating in art therapy, clients learn how to develop empathy and understanding towards self, which in turn, allows the same towards others, thereby improving relationships throughout life.

ADDICTION BLOG: Can art therapy be used in the context of family or partner counseling? Why or why not?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Art therapy can be a very effective form of communication by accessing underlying emotions that may be causing discord in relationships. The implementation of creative expression allows for an open dynamic that has most often been unutilized in relationships, but serves as a very effective tool to tackle underlying issues.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do you think about the current trend of coloring as stress release therapy? Do you use it in your programs?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Coloring, specifically the repetitious movement of doing so, stimulates neural pathways in the brain that lower stress because of the focus on one single activity. The same applies to any form of art, which all require concentration. An individual enters a meditative state of increased relaxation when they are mindful and not worrying about outside stressors of life, which is why art therapy is so effective as a de-stressor.

ADDICTION BLOG: How many people who explore art therapy typically end up working as artists? How many people continue with creative expression after taking your outpatient classes on art, creativity, and/or expression?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Not enough data has been obtained to give a definitive answer.

ADDICTION BLOG: How can someone new to recovery explore their artistic side in a less formal way?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Art is all around us in our everyday lives just waiting to be discovered. Music plays on the radio and we may choose to sing along; writing utensils and paper are readily available and we may simply draw geometric shapes or lines to start our creative process; collect items you see in nature and begin making a scrapbook to remember the beauty of the world; cut out pictures from a magazine and create a board of what you wish to bring into your life. The possibilities are endless.

ADDICTION BLOG: You run outpatient classes that help people discovery their true, authentic, SOBER selves. Can you tell us how identity and addiction are typically related?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: Quite often, clients enter our program identifying themselves as “addicts” or “alcoholics” because these substances have controlled their lives for a significant period of time.

We do not choose to label our clients based on their past, rather we encourage them to look towards their future and discover what fuels their existence. The sky is the limit for these individuals who have been given an opportunity to better themselves; an opportunity the vast majority of individuals in our world never receive.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

ROYAL LIFE CENTERS: At Royal Life Centers, every facility is based on a client-centered, humanistic approach to recovery, meaning each and every person who walks through our doors is an individual, void of all labels that have been placed upon them throughout their life experiences. We provide our clients with a safe space in which to express their genuine selves, free of judgment.

Operating from a holistic bio-psychosocial/spiritual model, Royal Life Centers helps our clients to understand HOW to shift their behaviors in order to reach their full potential. We empower our clients to re-integrate the forgotten parts of self in order to obtain self-reliance, interpersonal and intrapersonal peace, and skills to thrive in day-to-day living. Addiction is an asset, not a hindrance, and our goal at Royal Life Centers is to facilitate this powerful, life-changing shift in each individual’s journey.

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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