The Role of Creativity and Arts in Recovery

by | Sep 1, 2022 | Recovery

the role of creativity and the arts in recovery

The arts can enrich your daily life in many ways, whether you are an artist or appreciate art. The arts and expressing your creativity can not only bring joy to your life; they can even play an essential role as tools to help you maintain sobriety.

What Is Creativity and What Is Art?

There are many different definitions of creativity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines creativity as 1. the ability to create,  2. the quality of being creative. The American Psychological Association (APA) dictionary gives us a more in-depth definition as it defines creativity as “the ability to produce or develop original work, theories, techniques, or thought” and states that “a creative individual typically displays originality, imagination, and expressiveness.”

Like creativity, there are differing definitions of art, and whether or not a specific work is “art” or not is extremely subjective. One person may consider a particular piece a work of art, while another may think it is terrible and not a work of art. Some people even believe that art cannot be universally defined. However, Merriam-Webster has several definitions for art, but for our purposes, it is defined as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”

Using the Arts in Substance Use Disorder Treatment

You may think using art in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is a recent development. However, the use of art therapy in SUD treatment began as early as the 1950s, and research on the benefits of art therapy is widely documented. Art therapy can include a variety of activities and exercises, including:

  • Making an art journal
  • Creating sculptures
  • Making collages and mixed-media works
  • Incident drawings
  • Painting or drawing emotions
  • Stress painting or drawing

Most art therapy techniques focus on the creative process and making works of art. However, some applications include an artwork’s analysis, contemplation, and interpretation.

The visual arts are not the only ones that can be used in treating SUDs. The performing arts such as music and dance are also effective. The use of music therapy and dance in treatment is a more recent development than that of art therapy. Music therapy and dance in the treatment setting can include:

  • Moving and dancing to a piece of music
  • Lyric analysis
  • Relaxation training
  • Improvising music based on emotions
  • Songwriting

The Benefits of Using the Arts in SUD Treatment

The arts can yield tremendous benefits when used in the treatment of SUDs. These benefits include:

  • Reducing opposition to treatment
  • Lessening shame
  • Decreasing denial
  • Opening up communication
  • Prompt discussion in groups
  • Motivate patients to move from reflection to taking action toward positive change

Incorporating the arts into treatment can also be especially effective in improving the engagement of women and adolescents in treatment.

The Benefits of Continued Engagement in the Arts AfterTreatment

The arts are not only helpful while in treatment. Remaining engaged in the arts after your discharge can play a significant role in helping you stay sober and bring more joy into your life overall. Some of the benefits of the arts in recovery can be:

  • Distraction: Engaging in creating or even just contemplating and focusing on a work of art can prove to be an effective distraction if you are having cravings.
  • Improving function: Creating art can improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions impaired by substance use.
  • Increased self-esteem: Using your creativity and creating a unique piece can make you feel great about yourself and improve your self-esteem.
  • Open pathways to improved insight and self-awareness: Creative expression can help you get in touch with yourself on a deeper level, leading to increased self-awareness and insight into why you think and feel a certain way.
  • Creativity is a reward: Once you stop using substances, you may find that you are more creative and have more time and energy to create. The joy of being more creative can be a reward and an incentive to stay sober.

Ways to Continue Practicing Art in Recovery

You have completed SUD treatment, were discharged from your treatment program, and would like to continue using the arts to help you maintain sobriety, but how? Here are some helpful tips for continuing your creative journey outside of treatment:

  • Take classes: Some colleges and even libraries offer inexpensive art, music, creative writing, and dance classes. These are learning opportunities and a way to make connections and build friendships.
  • Visit museums and theaters, and go to concerts: You can enjoy the works of other artists and find inspiration for your work. If alcohol is served at the venue, you can take a sober friend or family member for support.
  • Find inexpensive supplies: Thrift stores can be a haven for art supplies! You can find used canvases that you can paint over and various fabrics, old books, and magazines for mixed media pieces. Old glassware and dishes can be painted and given new life. Items found in thrift stores can also be used to make sculptures. Inexpensive paints, brushes, pencils, and paper for wet and dry mediums can be found in art supply stores.
  • Join a community theater: You don’t even have to act. You can design costumes,  work on set design, or fill any various roles in promotion or backstage.
  • Observe the world around you and write a short story about it or even just a few sentences each day about your observations.

Vast amounts of time are not necessary. Sometimes all you need is 30 minutes to an hour to paint, sing, write, draw, or dance. Doing this consistently can help you open up to the healing, therapeutic role the arts can play in your recovery.

Trying to manage difficult emotions is a common trigger for using substances or relapsing. Unfortunately, it can also be a trigger for relapse. We now know that using art and creativity can be an effective way to express and process feelings. This includes difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, depression, or envy. That is why the arts are helpful tools for maintaining sobriety. At Sober Life, we understand this, so we offer Art and Music Therapy as part of our treatment programs. Our expert staff will teach you how to effectively use the arts to help manage triggers, cravings, and difficult emotions. You can take what you have learned in the treatment setting and apply those skills in real-world situations. To learn more about all of the treatment modalities we use at Sober Life, call us at (619) 542-9542 today.

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