What is Art Therapy?

For many years, traditional psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical-behavioral therapy (among others) have been used successfully as part of evidence-based treatment programs. In recent years, alternative treatment models have become popular mainstream and complementary elements for many mental health and addiction treatment needs. So what is art therapy and how can it help?

What is Art Therapy?

By definition, art therapy is the use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health. Art, either the creation of one’s own work or viewing other’s artistic creations, is used to help individuals explore emotions, develop deeper self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem and work on developing social skills.

While art therapy is sometimes considered an unconventional approach, it can be highly beneficial for those who don’t, won’t, or can’t usually open up during traditional individual or group therapy counseling sessions.

Art therapy combines psychotherapeutic practice with the creative process of art to improve mental health and well-being. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is “an approach to mental health that utilizes the process of creating art to improve mental, physical, and emotional wellness.”

How is Art Therapy Used in Rehab?

Art therapy’s primary goal is to use the creative processes associated with making or viewing art to help individuals explore self-expression. Through the exploratory process, people often find new and healthy ways to gain insight into their mental health and develop new, productive coping skills. Techniques commonly used in an art therapy session include drawing, painting, coloring, sculpting, or creating collages. Participants may also work with various media, including paint, markers, chalk, and clay.

As participants create art, they have the opportunity to consider and analyze what they have made. Also, they are encouraged to explore how their creation makes them feel. Through exploring their (or someone else’s) art, participants can look for themes or conflicts within their work that may be affecting their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Perhaps one of the best parts of art therapy is that participants do not need to possess any artistic ability or unique talents to participate in art therapy sessions.

Art therapy has shown success in treating a wide variety of conditions, including substance use disorders and other mental health diagnoses. For most, art therapy will be used alongside other traditional therapeutic techniques such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Art therapy as an alternative or complementary treatment is frequently used to help treat substance abuse disorders and related medical and psychological conditions.

What is the History of Art Therapy?

Although not as commonly known as traditional therapeutic methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, art therapy has been used as a successful treatment model for quite some time. For thousands of years, people have relied on some form of artistic expression to communicate, express themselves, and heal. However, art therapy did not begin to gain recognition as a formal treatment program until the late 1940s.

Medical community members noticed that individuals with varying types of mental illness often used drawing and other forms of artwork to express themselves. This realization led those within the mental health and medical communities to explore the use of art as a treatment and healing model. Since the early 1900s, art therapy has grown to be a vital element within the therapeutic field. Today, it is used as a part of assessment and treatment techniques for various mental health and addiction-related conditions.

How to Find Art Therapy Programs in Northern California

Traditional therapies such as group therapy, family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and others remain successful and beneficial therapy models for those seeking help to overcome a drug or alcohol use disorder. However, as viewpoints about rehab change and providers learn more about holistic (or “whole person”) treatment, the value of alternative therapies in San Francisco, like art therapy, is better understood. 

As part of a treatment program, alternative treatments help participants explore their emotions and behaviors differently. It is not uncommon for someone in addiction treatment to feel uncomfortable during group or individual therapy sessions when asked to vocalize their feelings or talk about their experiences with substances. Art therapy allows them to have a voice and communicate without speaking. If you would like to learn more about art therapy and how it might help you on your treatment journey, contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about this and other treatment options at our Northern California rehab.

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