Music and art therapy are often used as part of a holistic treatment regimen for substance abuse disorders. Many find freedom and joy in the ability to express their thoughts and emotions throughout their recovery journey through these mediums. A person can convey their ideas and explore, address, and understand issues in their life through art and music that they may not feel comfortable discussing verbally. Not only this, but art and music provide healthy outlets and distractions from drug use after a person graduates from a treatment program and begins their new life of sobriety. 

What is Art Therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, “Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” This type of therapy uses exercises of creating visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and more) and the creative process in conjunction with counseling theories and techniques with the goal of improving a client’s ability to function in daily life and gain a sense of personal well-being.

Art therapy has spread to a number of settings, including hospitals, wellness centers, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practices, and of course, drug and addiction rehabilitation centers.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy has essentially the same goals as art therapy in that the idea is to help an individual accomplish goals within a therapeutic setting, though in this case through music and movement to music. Upon assessing the strengths and needs of each client, a trained music therapist can incorporate things like creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music (American Music Therapy Association). Like art therapy, this provides an outlet for non-verbal expression which is highly valuable for those who do may be uncomfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings out loud. 

Types of Art & Music Therapy

Art/Music therapy encompasses a wide range of mediums and activities. There are so many methods of expression that it’s impossible to list them all. However, these are some of the more popular art therapy forms in the context of substance abuse and addiction treatment.

Painting. Painting, along with sketching, drawing, digital art, etc, can be extremely therapeutic for patients. This medium provides patients with a completely blank canvas, starting from nothing with the ability to create whatever their heart desires with virtually no limits. Therapists may find it valuable, however, to guide patients with a prompt or a basic idea, and have them work within the confines of those guidelines. The possibilities are endless.  

Sculpting. Sculpting allows patients to feel the sensation of the clay under their hands as they mold it into whatever shape they wish. This can be particularly soothing in a way that a lot of mediums can’t replicate. While painting is often done on a flat, 2-dimensional surface, sculpting allows individuals to create three-dimensional works of art that come to life with their own hands.

Photography. Photography is a wonderful and extremely accessible medium to incorporate into art therapy, as anyone with a smartphone can take high-quality photos! Photography is very versatile in that it can be used to capture memories and moments in time, or pushed to the limits with creative set design, modeling, editing, etc to create something fantastical out of real life.  

Dancing. Dancing does more than just provide a creative outlet, it also gets one’s body moving. As we know, exercise is super impactful on our wellbeing, and the more often we move our body, the better we will feel. With dance, you can seamlessly combine creative expression with exercise and movement.

Playing instruments. If you aren’t one for visual arts, picking up an instrument could be something that might interest you more. Once you have the basic knowledge, you can create your own melodies and perhaps even write lyrics if you are so inclined. Music has been an excellent way for people to express their emotions for hundreds of years. Even just listening to music can help people feel connected and realize they are not as alone as they may think.

The Benefits of Art & Music Therapy

Research on the benefits of art and music therapy has been extensively documented. Studies have suggested several benefits, including:

  • Decreasing denial
  • Reducing opposition to treatment
  • Providing an outlet for communication
  • Promoting emotional release
  • Resolving painful emotions
  • Externalizing traumatic or uncomfortable memories
  • Lessening shame
  • Reducing negative behaviors that stifle daily functioning
  • Encourage healthy, fulfilling behaviors
  • Restoring self-esteem and self-worth
  • Viewing, discussing, and interpreting art can help in group discussions
  • Motivate patients to change by encouraging them to take action

Art and music therapy are also great options for addressing and healing trauma. Many individuals who develop addictions or substance abuse issues have experienced trauma in their past, from witnessing or experiencing violence, loss, etc. The act of creating images and objects with various mediums is especially helpful when working with child victims, as it allows them to more easily depict what they have experienced.

What happens during an art therapy session?

Art and/or music therapy sessions are integrated into a patient’s regular schedule of recovery activities at a residential treatment program. Patients usually engage in creating art pieces independently or work with their peers on projects. Sessions should be facilitated by a licensed, professionally trained art or music therapist who can adequately guide the class or individual in a way that is beneficial to their healing. Unlike regular art classes, professional therapists will incorporate discussion about underlying emotions, experiences, or memories that are associated with the clients’ artistic expression.

How to find an art and/or music therapy program

When looking for addiction rehabilitation programs, keep an eye out for those that advertise “holistic” treatment methods and “experiential therapies.” These kinds of programs understand and emphasize the importance of the role of methods that go beyond the scope of detox and counseling. These programs usually take a multidisciplinary approach to treatment and advocate for client-directed therapies and activities. Click here to search for treatment providers, or give us a call at 602-737-2458 and we will be more than happy to assist you in finding the perfect program for you and your needs.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.