How Art Therapy Helps You to Process Emotions

You don’t have to be artistic to benefit from art therapy! This approach is focused on personal expression; through drawing, painting, sculpting and other media, participants are able to access emotions and experiences that they may find difficult to discuss. At Cumberland Heights, many of our clients find healing through art.


What Counts as Art Therapy?

Art therapy is broadly defined as the use of creative techniques for artistic and emotional expression. This modality was first identified in 1942 by British artist Adrian Hall, who observed the benefits of drawing and painting in recovery from tuberculosis.

During sessions, participants make use of different types of media. They may include…

  • Drawing, scribbling and doodling
  • Painting
  • Collaging
  • Coloring
  • Sculpting
  • Making pottery

The most important part of this process is the involvement of a credentialed art therapist: a counselor who specializes in decoding and analyzing the works created during each session. Therapy may be administered in addiction treatment facilities, one-on-one counseling sessions, hospitals, senior centers and other organizations.

A key benefit of this approach is that it is a non-confrontational mode of expression. Instead of sitting across from a therapist and finding the words to tell their story, clients are able to foster self-discovery and reflect on their past, present and future. This process helps with identity exploration, self-esteem and 12-Step work.


Who Needs Art Therapy?

According to Psychology Today, art therapy helps people of all ages to explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, improve symptoms of anxiety and relieve stress. Conditions which may merit the application of art therapy include…

  • Substance use disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Stress
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Eating disorders

Those with physical or chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairments also benefit from this therapeutic approach.

At Cumberland Heights, we have seen many people who have some form of “art trauma” – they may find it threatening to do something that is outside of their comfort zone. They may believe that they are not creative or talented enough to participate in this therapy. In reality, no artistic skill or background is required for this modality to work. In fact, many people are pleasantly surprised by the works they create during an art therapy session. We find that artmaking provides an opportunity to get “out of your head” and boost your self-esteem.


Purpose and Benefits

Perhaps the most important goal of art therapy is to express the thoughts, emotions and experiences that are difficult to talk about. Addition, mental illness and trauma are linked to intense feelings, and tactile therapies (such as sculpting or working with clay) help to provide catharsis, reveal unconscious material and promote verbal expression.

Put simply, if you have suffered and struggled during active addiction, you may not want to talk about your experience. Indeed, many people who come to treatment – especially men – have a hard time opening up and being vulnerable in a group setting. This is a normal coping mechanism, but it can be an obstacle to recovery. Art therapy can provide an outlet for years of pent-up emotion, creating an opportunity for healing.

This therapy can also improve your mental wellbeing. One study found that while women with cancer initially experienced a loss of sleep, lack of confidence and altered social relationships post-diagnosis, after participating in visual arts exercises, they reported increased positivity, self-worth, and ability to express their feelings in a symbolic way.

When trauma is experienced, it is most often stored in the nonverbal part of the brain. According to art therapist Elizabeth Hlavek, LCPAT, ATR-BC, recent research in the field of neuroscience has found that the creative process involves both sides of the brain, which can serve as a bridge between emotionality and cognition. This may lead to increased insight and the potential for behavioral changes.

With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, it is possible to use personal expression to heal.


Therapies Customized for Your Needs

Art therapy is just one piece of our specialties. At Cumberland Heights, we offer a wide array of modalities that may be tailored to each person’s condition and needs. These include adventure therapy, relapse prevention, labyrinth experience, music therapy, spiritual care services, yoga, therapeutic recreation and mindfulness meditation. All of these experiential therapies are combined with individual and group talk therapy sessions, ensuring that each client has access to evidence-based care in a variety of settings.

For more information about Cumberland Heights and our unique approach to recovery, please contact us today.