Moving away from addiction and into a healthier space is often a confusing, disorienting time in which many emotions can surface. No two people react the same way, so the fact that there are so many different types of art therapy is wonderful for counselors and therapists who want to try various methods. One of the greatest things about using art to cope with addiction, emotional issues, or trauma is that anyone of any age can utilize it. Often, it takes a great deal of patience with yourself to figure out what works for you, and that’s okay.
Learning what you’re capable of in a healthy, safe environment is one of the best ways to come back from substance abuse, and learning to channel your energies in a positive direction can only be a good thing.
Dancing is an incredibly expressive art form that involves the entire body and requires focus and concentration. Being aware of our bodies and what they are capable of is something that some substance abuse patients need help with at first, says board-certified dance and movement therapist instructor Emma Barton.
Ballet, tap, hip-hop, and freestyle all allow the dancer to find new ways to express emotion, and because it’s a full-body experience, you’ll find the same rush of endorphins that you get after a good round of exercise.
One of the best benefits of dancing is that you can do it in the privacy of your own home (provided you have the space) or in a classroom setting, which can help you socialize. It’s also a great way to get in shape and learn about your own body’s abilities and limits in a healthy way.
Whether it’s watercolor, acrylic, or oils, painting is a wonderful way for those suffering with addiction to cope. Not only is painting a quiet, soothing activity, it allows an artist to bring out whatever emotions they’re dealing with onto the paper or canvas and leave it there. Because drugs and alcohol can dull a person’s emotions, painting can bring you back to yourself, little by little. According to the American Art Therapy Association, painting and other creative endeavors can foster self-awareness and self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and help a person develop and maintain social skills.
Sculpting can be a wonderful, useful process for anyone coping with addiction. While it can be a bit messy, it’s a quiet, introspective activity that many find helpful when dealing with various issues. Because addiction often follows trauma of some kind, creating sculpture is one way to heal those underlying wounds while coping with substance abuse issues. One combat veteran who served in the Iraq War said that because he wasn’t comfortable talking to others about what he’d seen, he turned to sculpting instead.
“More than talking in a group or something or taking medication, making artwork’s been my therapy. Art saved my life,” said Jeffrey Stenbom.
Whether you work with clay, glass, paper, or wire, the first step is usually to sketch out your idea onto a piece of paper and work from there. It can be a little intimidating at first, but once you get the basic shapes down, you’ll start to see your idea come to life, which is extremely satisfying. You can find detailed instructions on how to begin your sculpture here.
Along those same lines, playing an instrument can be highly beneficial in coping with addiction. Whether you’re looking to learn guitar, drums, bass, violin, or ukulele, there are many ways to go about it, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule and comfort level.
There are various videos online that can give you step-by-step instruction when you’re starting out, or, if you feel comfortable doing so, check out local classes offered by colleges or private instructors. Just keep in mind that everyone learns at different speeds, and that learning an instrument takes time and lots and lots of practice.
Drawing is one of the earliest forms of artistic expression. From cave paintings to the genius of Michelangelo, the ability to use a writing instrument to communicate and create has given the world some of the most beautiful, mysterious, and moving pieces of art. And while many people who have never attempted to draw before quickly write it off as something they can’t do, it’s important to remember that every artist felt that way at some point. All of us have the ability to express ourselves on pen and paper; have you ever seen a small child not get excited over a clean piece of paper and a crayon? It’s as though we all have an innate talent and love for art hidden in the brain, and all it takes is the opportunity to let it out.
Singing is something that many of us do without even thinking about it; in the car along with the radio, to our children, in the shower. But few people realize that they have a real talent because they’ve never stopped to listen to themselves before. Even if you’ve never seriously considered being musical but you enjoy it, the benefits are wonderful.
Music can convey emotions that are difficult to get across with words, and many studies have been conducted that show the positive effects songs can have on people coping with addiction or emotional disorders.
Some of the positive effects of singing and music include:
Not everyone has a predisposition to acting, and many people in recovery don’t feel comfortable getting up in front of a large group of people. However, there’s something to be said about being able to take on a completely different persona, complete with a wig and costume, and lose yourself in another world for a bit.
Aside from that, it can be part of the healing process to take on a dramatic role that causes you to face your own past head-on. Working in the world of theater and drama can promote expressing feelings and making positive connections with others in a safe environment.
Another relaxing and potentially profitable pastime, making jewelry is similar to the arts and crafts time that therapists recommend for patients healing from various types of illness and addiction. Making things can get you back in touch with yourself, allow you to come to terms with your emotions, and can help you focus and rebuild self-esteem.
Arts and crafts stores usually have large sections of jewelry-making supplies to choose from, as well as books and pamphlets on how to get started. You can also peruse Pinterest for ideas and inspiration.
Some of the materials used to create jewelry are:
“Once off the drugs, the brain craves the uber rewards of the hyperpalatables — Mint Milanos, Oreos, any sugar. An apple’s reward doesn’t cut it. So you end up with the transfer addiction. Off the cocaine, onto the cupcakes.” said Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.
Like any art form, learning to sew takes patience and a lot of practice. Whether you want to make clothing or crocheting is more your style, there are plenty of books and tutorials online that will help you along the way. Once you get the hang of it, sewing can be an extremely relaxing activity and, at the end of it, you’ll have a finished product that can be of use! These include blankets, scarves, hats, clothing, kitchen towels, rugs, and curtains.
Many people sell their creations in online shops like Etsy, which is a great way to earn extra money once you figure out what it is you’d like to make.
Sometimes, journaling leads to other forms of writing, such as poetry and short stories. This kind of expression can be extremely helpful for art therapy because it allows the writer to get in touch with emotions they either didn’t realize they had or were keeping suppressed, which can be a detriment to treatment.