How Does Art Therapy Work in Recovery?

When an individual seeks help for addiction, the person has many options for what kind of treatment he or she needs. Individual, group, skills-focused and relapse prevention are part of many treatment programs and art therapy is just one alternative to supporting multiple forms of expression and healing.

Types of Therapy

In the realm of art therapy, a person uses creativity and imagination to make art that expresses the individual self in a healthy, productive way. The goal of art therapy is for the person to expand forms of communication in order to best convey his or her experiences. The kind of art normally used may include:

  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Dancing
  • Drawing
  • Acting
  • Music
  • Poetry

How it Works

SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment guide describes art therapy as an expressive group therapy technique to allow greater expressin of thoughts and feelings. The therapy is helpful for people in recovery from addiction and with a history of abuse. Creating art is often a nonverbal process which expands the ways a person may convey emotions and ideas. Art therapy is an opportunity to explore, understand and resolve issues in a person’s life.

Art therapy may be used to help individuals talk about images in therapy because it helps in discovering insight and meaning. This may include:

  • Gestalt methods where the person works out current feelings and experiences as a tool for deeper insight
  • Active imagination where the artwork is a starting point and the person is allowed to freely associate which opens the door to introspection and discussion of feelings
  • Third-hand approach which incorporates help from a therapist to support the overall artistic vision and production of the art

Art therapy is useful to help people undergoing addiction treatment as it provides ways of understanding and coping with addiction. Both art therapy and traditional therapy focus on helping a person practice introspection and healthy coping skills. It may be one way to explore aspects of a person’s life he or she may not be able to explain conversationally but can do so through artistic means. This lends itself to deeper understanding of own’s own experiences and feelings.


The Villa is a place that provides safety and community to recover from addiction. If you are struggling to cope with addiction or know someone who is, call us to find out how we can help you find the right resources, tools and alternative methods that will help guide you into a healthier way of life.