Art Therapy as Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

 

Mural at our opioid treatment program

Mural at our opioid treatment program

 

 

 

We have a bunch of really creative people enrolled in our opioid addiction treatment program, skilled in arts of all kinds. We have an art therapy group, and I love looking at their creations.

As a special project, a group of patients made a beautiful mural on one wall of our facility, seen above. On the far left, scenery is dark and foreboding, with tombstones and other images of bleakness. Gradually there’s a transition as you look to the right. At the far right, the imagery is more cheerful, with pretty flowering trees and green grass. In the middle, signposts direct the viewer to the left, labeled “addiction,” and to the right, labelled “recovery.”

I started to wonder about whether art therapy was evidence-based, probably because I wanted it to be, because I like the idea of art therapy.

I found studies showing art therapy can decrease denial, reduce opposition to treatment, and give people with substance use disorders a means of communication. (Cox & Price, 1990, Allen et al, 1985, Moore, 1983) Some studies show that art can help lessen shame, and be an aid to group discussions for people with substance use disorders. (Johnson, 1990). Art can also help patients feel more motivated about making changes. (Holt & Kaiser, 2009, Matto et al, 2003)

So it appears there’s some evidence to show that art therapy can be of help to recovering people.

I have two posters framed in my office. They aren’t the usual inspiration posters of “teamwork” and “dream big,” etc. They don’t have any writing at all, and I picked them because they both inspired me personally. It’s interesting how patients interpret them

One is a print of a representational image of a colorful mountain, topped with praying hands, with a river appearing to flow from the mountain.

I’ve had numerous intriguing comments from patients about this print. Most just say “I like it.” Others say it reminds them that prayer can help them, or that prayer can create beautiful things.

I had one patient look at it for a long while, then back at me, and he said, “You’re a lesbian, aren’t you?” I had to laugh. I have no idea how he got that from my picture. When I told him no, I’m not a lesbian, he seemed disappointed. This illustrates how art can be interpreted differently by different people.

My other poster is a print of a painting that is so realistic that it looks like a photo. It shows a mountain goat in mid-leap between two narrow, snow covered peaks. A deep crevasse separates the two mountains. I’m intrigued by how differently patients react to that one. Many say that they like that one too, and I ask them, “Do you think he makes it?” meaning does the goat land safely? Most patients say something like, “I don’t know…” and others say, “No way. That goat falls.” And still others say, “Of course he does. He’s a mountain goat; that’s what he’s made for.”

Again, interesting perspectives from different people.

Do patients’ reactions to my art prints tell me anything useful for patient treatment? I don’t think it’s that easy. I’m tempted to assume the patient who says the mountain goat will fall is a pessimist, and the patient who says the goat will make it is an optimist, but I don’t know about that. For now, it’s just interesting.

Art is like that. It can help us understand the world in subtle, unique ways.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaleapoffaith

Advertisements

One response to this post.

  1. I think getting a dog after my first year of recovery gave me the next 8 years. Being a gay single man in my early 50s with a good job was scary because I had no one to be responsible for. Getting a recovery dog completely gave me something to love and loved me back. I had made a contract that if I were to relaspe my doctor had a release to get my sponsor and my mother notified to ensure that I would be supported. This dog changed my life and I am now working to become breeder of merit and handler of Great Danes. I also work with horses and drive a carriage with a Horses. My first dog did die and that was a rough spot. I got another GD 6 months later and my recovery never stronger. 2 weeks ago my Great Dane died with no warnings at the age of 6 with cancer. I am now without her but still work with horses 2 days a week, This sudden death is the most painful thing so far in my life. I am now a member of 3 national organizations for Danes and because of my recovery have been able to develop so many meaningful relationships with these people that I am getting support from all over .
    I am sure my family is praying I get through this. I am heartbrokenly sad. But I am still standing strong on MAT. I hope another Dane will be in my life soon but I know a relaspe will keep me futher from this goal then staying strong on my medication assisted recovery.
    My recovery community has become such a force of love and support and I thank all of you.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: