Using Art Therapy in Recovery
Propped in one corner of the art room at Champion Center is a small white canvas with two simple images painted on it. At the top is a clearly female hand, with painted fingernails in a brilliant pink color. Below the reaching, outstretched hand is a silver bottle with two words painted on it: Grey Goose. Nearby, a black plastic bowl holds small palm-sized river rocks. Some are painted with abstract designs. Others have words and phrases: Serenity. Faith. One Day at a Time.
The room, used for art and recreational therapy, is one element of the recovery process at Champion Center. In art therapy, those undergoing treatment at Champion Center are largely engaged with one another.
On one recent afternoon, two young men played checkers, while another ending his stay at the center worked diligently on his contemplative journal. Small clusters of patients helped one another with a beading project, speaking openly about making presents for young children, moms and wives.
“I’m making bracelets for all the staff,” one young man said. “They treated me nice.” No longer is recovery therapy limited to intense one-on-one or group discussion. Now, facilities such as Champion Center are incorporating creative elements as a significant element of the recovery process.
“In Recreation Therapy, the patients have an opportunity to be in group setting making bracelets, drawing or playing board games while learning social skills, said Jennifer Fusco, who leads the sessions. “Learning social and leisure skills is important for their recovery when they leave this safe place and go out into the world.”
With art, patients may feel more willing to express their feelings of hope or anger, or to put into abstract form the face of their particular addictive demon. For some, art therapy, like reflective reading, is a chance for a new form of relaxation.
“When they’re in there, they can make art that shows how they would like life to be in the future, how they see themselves living,” Fusco said, noting a nearby collage project. In art therapy, it’s a more relaxed mood with music and laughter. “Everyone is at ease,” she says. “It’s not a focus group. I get to know them on a different level.”
According to the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, Inc., creative art therapy can “make the difference between denial and determination. Creative Arts therapists use arts-based techniques to confront the client’s barriers to the recovery process.”
The coalition notes that treatment outcomes include improving communications and expression and increasing physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social functioning.