Communicating Creatively: Art, Music, and Alternative Addiction Treatment Therapies
–by Michelle Peterson
Millions of people who suffer the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction benefit from traditional, 12-step treatment therapies. Nevertheless, there are some recovering addicts for whom such methods are not effective, and who need the help of alternative approaches that a decade ago might have seemed avant-garde but today are considered fully acceptable and proven-effective treatments. A 2014 research study found that approximately 40 percent of adult substance abusers are in treatment using some form of alternative therapy. Among the most popular of these are art and music therapy, which are used in rehab centers, schools, private practices, and hospitals, and which can be used in individual counseling or group settings.
Benefits of Art Therapy
Art therapy encourages patients to express themselves through different artistic media. Its value lies in its ability to uncover underlying mental processes that have led the individual to addictive behavior. The creative nature of this regimen can provide important insights into one’s motivations, behavioral patterns, and relapse triggers. There are many important benefits that help recovering addicts avoid negative situations and thoughts that may lead to a resumption of drug or alcohol use. Art therapy helps reduce the tendency to deny there is a problem, an important benefit because acceptance is the first step in getting the help you need.
Once denial has been overcome, resistance to addiction treatment decreases and patients begin to communicate more openly about their problems. The shame and guilt that addicts often feel are alleviated, and their motivation to maintain sobriety is strengthened. Additionally, the personal interaction recovering addicts engage in often helps improve social skills and their ability to engage on a social level, which is important in developing and repairing friendships and bonds.
Benefits of Music Therapy
Research has shown that music therapy often works for recovering addicts who haven’t had success with other treatment strategies. Its popularity may lie in its easy accessibility, making it a comfortable option for many people. It also offers an unconventional form of creative expression that many patients respond to very favorably. Music therapy acts as a creative forum for examining emotions and enhancing self-esteem, an important factor in recovery. It is a highly effective way to empower recovering addicts by making them feel successful, and that they can communicate feelings more effectively through music than they could verbally.
Music therapy also has cognitive benefits that help the patient improve self-awareness and improve focus and concentration. Music can easily be incorporated in recovery practice through listening, discussing and making music independently or as part of a group. In some settings, individuals are encouraged to write their own songs and consider lyrics from well-known songs. Improvisation is also a popular and effective treatment strategy. Some patients emerge with improved coping skills and problem-solving abilities, and those who participate in group sessions often gain from an enhanced mindfulness and improved interpersonal skills.
There are many mental and emotional benefits to learning an instrument, such as a clarinet, saxophone, or other woodwind instrument, and playing your own music. It increases memory capacity, encourages involvement in group activities, improves organizational abilities, enhances coordination, and imparts mathematical skills. And when playing in a band or group, you can develop friendships and learn to work with others toward a common goal.
Sometimes, people communicate more effectively and discover things about themselves through creative activity that they couldn’t through verbal exchanges. That quality makes art and music therapy especially useful and popular addiction treatment strategies. They can help recovering addicts develop an inner perspective that leads to healing.
Michelle Peterson, guest blogger at Southwestern College.
If you are interested to learn more about the Art Therapy/Counseling Program at SWC please click here!