Art Therapy: 7 Benefits of Being Creative in Rehab

Art Therapy
May 24, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Art Therapy

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as creating art for therapeutic reasons by people who have experienced illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and those who seek personal development. It is the practice of engaging a client through the use of creative media, including collage, drawing, sculpture, painting, pastels and other forms of expression as part of a treatment program. Unlike the typical art class, an art therapy session focuses on the clients’ thoughts and emotions, working toward developing self-expression rather than a set of art skills how to get a six pack.

Obviously, being creative in rehab becomes very essential. For the recovering addicts, art allows for a new form of communication and self-reflection. Evidence indicates that art therapy and other creative arts therapies stimulate cognitive function in older adults who have dementia or related disorder (Levine- Madori, 2009) and may reduce depression in those with Parkinson’s disease (Elkis-Abuhoff et al, 2008).

There has been a myth that rehabs preach and dish out one-size-fits all solution to addiction. However, modern day rehab facilities offer therapy alternatives that tackle two important components of sobriety: discovering the cause of individual’s addiction and teaching new life skills that will help deal with substance abuse triggers. The benefits of being creative in rehab are:


Addiction tends to not only cause a distorted reality about person’s environment or circumstances, but also about themselves. A type of art therapy called doll building is a self-reflective exercise that can be done throughout the course of rehabilitation. As you show progress in the program, your improved sense of self will appear in the doll. As the patient’s doll – once a broken, discarded toy – changes and improves with each session, it reflects addict’s own recovery process.

Emotional Healing

Making affirmation cards is an exercise commonly done in art therapy. Blank pieces of paper or index cards are turned into daily positive reinforcements using simple statements like “I believe in myself”, “I am loved”, or “I will succeed”. These statements further an addict’s emotional healing. This is called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which through consistent exercise positively adjusts a person’s negative emotions.

Visual Communication

Your first days of rehab can be a real challenge as you meet staff professionals and other patients all unknown to you. Art therapy as an alternative gives you, in a way, another voice. You can get through those tough emotions by exploring alternative means of communication.

Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention is an important component of rehab. Several triggers in social situations will be all over in day-to-day scenarios after you are out of rehab. Exercises you learnt in art therapy will help you overcome your addiction through creative expression. They can as well help you to maintain sobriety.


Lack of self-esteem is a common cause of addiction. The way you view yourself dictates how you conduct yourself and live your life. Art therapy provides you with creative projects that will give you a sense of accomplishment and progress at the end. Drawing and coloring can also unleash your inner child, causing to distress and think of happier times. 

Personal Breakthroughs

Visual communication in art therapy can help people work through difficult experiences. If you show progress in art therapy you will generally begin to rediscover self-worth and build trust with therapists. These are huge milestones or personal breakthroughs in addiction recovery.


A positive life changing experience can dramatically alter a person’s life path. Art therapy can unlock talent for sobriety support, potential art therapists, or addiction education advocates. Also, people who have lost weight may want to become personal trainers or health advocates. When you experience something that changes your life, you often want to share that with others so that they can profit from it as well.

You may think you don’t have a creative or artistic bone in your body, but art therapy is worthy trying. You don’t have to be the next Van Gogh for this form of therapy to be beneficial; you just have to be open to exploring emotions through creative expression.