Art Therapy As Part of Addiction Treatment

Portrait Placeholder No Profile Image By Lisa Nelson
person painting with watercolors on canvas

There are so many different theories and techniques involved in holistic therapies, but the one that is probably the most misunderstood and asked about is art therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a remedial activity or an aid to diagnosis.

In simpler terms, it is the use of art to gain insight into emotions, thoughts, and feelings.  It is a way to visually capture your struggles without necessarily using words.  It is the perfect outlet for when words are too difficult to say out loud.

How does this form of treatment work?

Your art therapist guides you through the process and may ask questions related to what you drew to allow for deeper exploration and discussion. It can be scary, but also freeing – and always safe.

What are the benefits?

Incorporating art therapy into traditional addiction treatment can help individuals:

  • Gain a greater sense of self-confidence
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Practice healthy coping skills
  • Gain insight into their emotions
  • Explore and manage symptoms caused by past trauma
  • Learn to better express their feelings and emotions
  • Develop a more positive outlook on life

Benefits vary greatly depending on the individual, but its overall benefits include improving mental, emotional, and in some cases, even physical health.

Misconceptions About Art Therapy

Art therapy has been around since the 1940s, yet there are still many misconceptions about it. Let’s clear up some myths!

Myth 1:  You need to be an artist.

You do not need to have any artistic ability whatsoever. Art therapy is not an art class. It is not about learning painting techniques or becoming the next Picasso. It is about self-expression, exploring your emotions, and improving self-esteem. Art therapy can be a rewarding experience whether you are a skilled artist or not.

Myth 2: Art therapy is for kids.

Sure, kids can benefit from art therapy, but so can you. Art therapy does not discriminate based on age, sex, or race. We could all use better ways to express ourselves. We could all learn more about our emotions and how to manage them. We would all like to experience less stress. Do not let pretty colors and fun materials fool you: art therapy is for everyone.

Myth 3: Art therapists are not “real therapists.”

You need a master’s degree and special certification to be an art therapist, so art therapists are most certainly “real therapists.”

Myth 4:  You’re going to see my artwork and know what I’m thinking.

Art can be brutally honest, and often serves as a window into a person’s soul, but no one can read your mind, not even an art therapist. An art therapist never assumes anything at face value about what you drew. This is why we ask questions like, “Why did you choose that color?” or “How does this image tie to that image?”

On the other hand, while we cannot read your mind, we do have art assessments that we can use to aid in diagnosing. Art therapy is about deep exploration, and art therapists serve as facilitators who can help you see things differently or discover things about yourself. But ultimately, we cannot tell you what you are thinking or how you feel – only you can do that.

Hopefully, this is a start to understanding what art therapy is and isn’t. If you are interested in exploring art therapy on your own, a basic book I use is: The Art of Recovery by Whitney Nobis. It is a book about self-exploration with exercises you can do on your own. But please be advised, if you are looking to further explore the subject, locate an art therapist that has their master’s degree or is certified. You can locate one in your area through

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.