“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” –Aristotle

Creativity can play an important role in recovery from addiction. Many people who suffer from an addiction disorder experience alexithymia - a condition in which a person has difficulty in identifying and describing feelings. Creative outlets like art, writing, music, and drama can help people to explore their feelings and express difficult thoughts, memories, and emotions.

Guilt and shame are common feelings among those suffering from addiction. Creative therapies can provide addicts in recovery with a safe space to explore these feelings without triggering a relapse.

Sufferers of trauma can benefit from creative therapy as it allows them to explore and share their pain without having to speak directly about it. It also provides people with an opportunity to see their pain through another person’s expression.

Music has been found to foster a healing environment and reduce stress.

Trauma and addiction can seriously dampen a person's inner playfulness and freedom. Creativity is a way to open up the childlike, carefree parts of ourselves.

The Value of Art Therapy

‘Art therapy, when used in conjunction with an addiction treatment program, can enhance the process of recovery for the individual by improving mindfulness, building a means of spiritual connection, and reducing shame and anxiety, therefore increasing the likelihood of long standing sobriety.[1]’

In combination with traditional treatment, art therapy can be of significant in the treatment of mental health issues. It is a means of self-discovery, as the act of creating art allows you to uncover and acknowledge feelings that have been buried in the subconscious mind. Art therapy also serves to boost self esteem, as accomplishing a task like creating a piece of art instills in oneself a sense of self-appreciation and confidence.

Art therapy offers a catharsis of difficult emotions. It allows a person to release emotional energy in a healthy way, Creative therapies can be used to relieve stress, and relax both mind and body.

This type of treatment helps people resolve conflicts, reduce stress and anxiety, manage grief, increase self-esteem and wellbeing, and work through maladjusted behaviors, attitudes, or conditions[2].

Findings from a study exploring emotional regulation strategies and the emotional effects of arts-based group participation in adults with mental health problems show that participation in arts‐based groups benefits the emotions of both healthy adults and those experiencing mental health conditions through individual and interpersonal processes[3].

Dr.James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Austin, Texas, has conducted research on the health benefits of expressive writing. In one study, in which 46 healthy students were asked to write about personal traumas or trivial matters for 15 minutes on four consecutive days, he found that students who had been writing about personally traumatic events visited the campus health centre less often and used less pain relievers than participants who wrote about trivial matters[4].

Creative outlets are a healthy use of free time. During addiction treatment, patients must often adhere to strict routines and schedules, but once they leave residential treatment, their schedule is much less regulated, and they will find that they have much more free time on their hands. A creative outlet can be a welcome distraction from cravings during this time, and further enhances a person's connection to themselves.

Creativity Myth

Creatives who use substances sometimes say that the use of substances helps with their creativity. Granted, substances alter the mind and can influence perspective so it’s easy to see why this may be a valid claim. However, the truth about substances is that they tend to numb feelings. Not just difficult feelings, either, like sadness and anger, but positive feelings like joy, authenticity, and connection.

Connecting with Joy

Substances interfere with our ability to naturally feel joy. Even when in recovery, it can take time to rebuild the ability to naturally release feelings of happiness, joy, and a sense of purpose. This is where creative forms of therapy can help. Creating just for the sake of creating helps us to strengthen our emotional muscles. Any art that you create is perfect as it is, but the more authentic you are with your feelings the more expressive the art will be. Creativity is a sacred act, an exploration of unique and deep feelings and sensations, thoughts, and emotions, and there is no ‘right’ way to do it. The aim is not to create a masterpiece, or even something objectively ‘good’, but to open up a channel to a deeper part of ourselves that we have become disconnected with. Creative expression can cultivate within us childlike freedom and playfulness, which enhances our recovery and invites joy into our lives.

How to Increase Creativity

To increase one’s level of creativity, it can help to keep a daily journal. Journalling is a way to chart and track personal progress, as well as a means of recording any inspirational thoughts and ideas. A dream diary can also help a lot. Dreaming reveals to us the content of our subconscious minds, and when we keep track of and reflect upon what we dream about, we have greater access to our inner creativity.

Mindfulness and meditation can help us cultivate creative character traits like humility, passion, concentration, and openness.

Fear is a huge obstacle in the creative process. Mindfulness and meditation can also change our relationship to fear as they guide us towards the present moment, where there is, in reality, nothing to fear.

It is important to remember that when it comes to the creative process, the only failure is not trying in the first place.