Art Therapy in the Treatment of Addictions, An Exploration of the Use of Therapeutic Art in Women's Intensive Day Treatment

by Christine Lummis

The purpose of this thesis is to outline ways that art therapy can be integrated into the women's DEW Program. This research can also be generalized to other types of addiction treatment programs. My intention is to raise awareness of ways in which art therapy can act as a primary function within treatment to address addiction and the underlying issues involved.

The women's DEW Program and Intensive Day Treatment Program for women with substance abuse issues, is effective as a treatment program due to its creative approach to combining psycho-education with the benefits of creative-arts therapies.  Women accessing treatment benefit from gender-specific programs, such as the DEW Program. It has been well documented that women-centered programs, using approaches that are creative, holistic, and empowering, assist women in achieving the most successful recovery.

Art Therapy is a unique and powerful treatment modality. Its visual and creative aspects offer therapeutic elements other approaches lack. It provides an opportunity for women to address many of the clinical issues underlying substance abuse, while building on their strengths, enhancing self-esteem, and stimulating their imagination.

Therapeutic art operates on a highly complex mental-emotional level. The combination of cognitive, emotional, and physical/experiential aspects of art therapy allow women to become actively involved in their own recovery in a more profound way than through verbal therapy alone. In addition to the benefits experienced by clients, therapists may also benefit from the explicit and metaphoric nature of the images, which leads to a deeper level of empathy and understanding.

Art therapy has historically been widely used in addictions treatment programs, although it has been recognized mostly as an adjunct to other modalities. As a result, art is widely used in a therapeutic manner, often without formal training in art therapy on the part of counsellors or therapists. This paper presents a number of the functions and interpretive methods used in art therapy, in a tangible and useable way, in order to benefit those working in the addictions field. It also serves to expand the understanding of clinical issues involved in addiction, for those working as art therapists.