Art Therapy for Addiction

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Michael Por

Understanding Art Therapy


Art therapy for addiction treatment involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collages, coloring or shaping to help people express themselves artistically and to examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art.


Under the guidance of a recognized art therapist, clients can “decipher” the non-verbal messages, symbols, and metaphors that are common in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so that they can solve deeper problems.


There are practically endless types of creative therapies that people can participate in. In fact, this type of therapy is relatively fluid, as any therapist can potentially create new forms of therapy using art, by combining art media to create new art forms for a class or session11.J. Hu, J. Zhang, L. Hu, H. Yu and J. Xu, Frontiers | Art Therapy: A Complementary Treatment for Mental Disorders, Frontiers.; Retrieved September 28, 2022, from Ultimately, every art form can be used in creative therapy, from painting to sculpture or woodworking.


Artistic therapy is an independent discipline that includes creative methods of expression through visual art media. Creative therapy as a profession of creative therapy has its origins in the fields of art and psychotherapy and can vary in its definition. The psychoanalytic approach was one of the earliest forms of art psychotherapy.


Art Therapy for Addiction


Art therapy helps children, adolescents and adults explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addiction problems, reduce stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and deal with a physical illness or disability. Art therapists work with individuals, couples, and groups in a variety of settings, including private counseling, hospitals, wellness centers, prisons, senior centers, and other community organizations.


Much like Music Therapy, no artistic talent is required for the success of artistic therapy, since the therapeutic process is not about the artistic value of the work, but about finding associations between the creative decisions and the inner life of a client22.H. L. Stuckey and J. Nobel, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 28, 2022, from The artwork can be used as a springboard to awaken memories and tell stories that can reveal messages and beliefs of the subconscious.


What to expect in Art Therapy for Addiction


As with any form of therapy, your first session is to talk to the therapist about why you want to seek help and to find out what the therapist has to offer. Together, you create a treatment plan that creates a kind of artwork. Once you start creating, the therapist can sometimes simply watch your process as you work without interference or judgment.


When you have finished a work of art – and sometimes while you are still working on it – the therapist will ask you questions about how you feel about the artistic process, what was easy or difficult to create your work of art, and what thoughts or memories you may have had during your work? In general, the therapist will ask about your experiences and feelings before making any observations.


Benefits of Art Psychotherapy for Addiction


  1. Making art can be a safer way to express emotions and become more practical and tangible.
  2. Art therapy can help people who have difficulty speaking about their feelings.
  3. Art therapy can contribute to the development of abstract thinking skills and emotional development, and when integrated with Psycho-education makes learning and improving cognitive skills easier


How Art Therapy Works


Art therapy for addiction treatment is based on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has a therapeutic value for those who heal or seek a deeper understanding of themselves and their personality. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists are trained to understand the role that color, texture, and various art media can play in the therapeutic process, and how these tools can help reveal their own thoughts, feelings, and psychological disposition.


Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and some form of visual arts as a specific, independent form of therapy, but is also used in combination with other types of therapy.


Artistic Therapy in Addiction Treatment


Creative therapy can play an important role in the emotional and spiritual aspects of healing addiction and is offered in several of the Worlds Best Rehab programs. Depending on the program, patients can participate in artistic therapy once or several times a week.


No two clients in treatment present with the exact same condition, which means that treatment plans have to be adapted to individual needs and recovery goals.


Creative therapy can be used with other forms of holistic treatment such as music therapy, animal therapy, experience therapy, yoga, meditation, acupuncture or massage. Artistic therapy in addiction treatment provides a productive way to deal with the stress that many experience when they continue to be sober.


Qualified art therapists are experts in helping a client to process difficult experiences with creativity and craftsmanship and to strengthen self-confidence. This can help solve problems and deal with symptoms of stress and trauma.


Art psychotherapists are trained therapists with an education that combines the art of expression with psychotherapy. Creative therapists have experience with art as a medium for creativity and not just as a tool for verbal therapy.


Is Creative Therapy in Addiction Treatment New


Artistic therapy programs are not new, and as far back as the 1940s researchers discovered that art therapy allowed patients undergoing addiction psychotherapy to make breakthroughs when other treatment models failed, thus pioneering the view that art is a form of communication when conducted in a therapy setting.


Over the decades it’s become generally accepted that art therapy is a mental health and addictions treatment modality that uses art and the creative process to enable a therapeutic experience. By creating and appreciating art, a person in substance abuse recovery can ideally express himself where words cannot. While artistic therapy is rarely the only therapy that a person uses in recovery, it can be a significant addition to drug management and talk therapy or psychotherapy.


Artistic therapy is a form of experience therapy, and an approach to recovery that takes into account emotional and spiritual needs through creative or physical activity. Many clients find that art therapy is a relaxing and enjoyable way to address some of the more complex aspects of rehab.


Choosing an Art Therapist


An art therapist has at least a master’s degree, usually from an integrated psychotherapy and visual arts program at an educational institution accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The initials ATR after a therapist’s name mean that he or she is registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). The initials ATR-BC mean that the therapist is not only registered, but has passed an exam in order to be certified by the ATCB from the board.


Art Therapy Vs Art Classes


Artistic therapy is different from an art lesson because it’s more about expressing how you feel. It is important that the process can be just as meaningful as the end result, and in order to be able to perform creative therapy, it must be led by a trained and registered art therapist.


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  • 1
    1.J. Hu, J. Zhang, L. Hu, H. Yu and J. Xu, Frontiers | Art Therapy: A Complementary Treatment for Mental Disorders, Frontiers.; Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
  • 2
    2.H. L. Stuckey and J. Nobel, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
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