Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses art as its main form of communication. A trained art therapist uses art to explore difficult feelings, experiences and behaviours in a safe environment.

The role of art in art therapy takes many forms. It’s a way to express your emotions, a way of communicating with yourself and a way of communicating with your therapist. It helps you to build confidence and self-awareness by engaging with your emotions creatively, using forms and methods that may be new and unusual to you. Many people struggling with addiction report a new sense of awareness and purpose after engaging in art therapy.

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Why art therapy for addiction treatment?

Therapy is an integral part of the addiction recovery process. By uncovering the emotional causes of addiction and identifying the underlying mental health problems that have fueled it, the likelihood of recovery is greatly increased, and the risk of relapse is reduced.

Different types of therapy will be more effective for different people, and each type of therapy will have advantages and strengths over others. Art therapy can help you reconnect with your imagination and creativity, facilitating self-expression. This can be a very effective way of boosting self-esteem and helping you access and express feelings you have difficulty putting into words.

Art therapy for addiction is particularly effective when combined with traditional modalities like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). This is because it can help you unearth difficult feelings that you can then bring to these sessions.

However, art therapy isn’t just about finding source material for ‘real’ therapy – it’s a powerful therapeutic modality in itself, where you’re encouraged to (if you want to) talk about your problems and your feelings while you express yourself creatively. Art therapists are both artists AND therapists – they’re there to help you engage with both the artistic process and with your emotions.

Benefits of art therapy for addiction treatment

Art therapy is useful for people who struggle to express themselves verbally or who feel shut down and isolated. Art therapy is especially effective at helping to identify and reduce feelings of shame and anxiety, both of which are very common experiences for people experiencing addiction.


People in active addiction frequently talk about feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness and failure. These are all manifestations of shame, and shame can be hard to express using language – even talking about it can feel shameful itself. Feeling shame can make you want to hide and run away.

Art therapy helps you to recognise your shame, label it, and distinguish it from reality, reducing faulty thought patterns and unhelpful distortions. This helps you to create a healthier image of yourself.

Art therapy can also help you by giving you another way of expressing difficult feelings other than talking about them, by approaching them in a way that isn’t verbal. Working through deeply painful emotional conflicts and feelings in this way can help you express things that you can’t quite put into words. This can allow you to release these feelings in a way that feels safer.


Engaging in the process of creation through art is a powerful tool of self-exploration. Making art allows you to look inside, step back, and engage in something outside of yourself. Art therapy can help you look at yourself through a new lens and understand yourself and your problems in different ways. This can have a profound effect on anxiety.

Sharing artwork with a therapist can also be much less intimidating than using your words to talk about things that make you feel anxious, and this can be a low-pressure way of expressing things that make you feel fearful in a therapeutic setting.


Art therapy involves creating something, and this can help you feel a sense of mastery, achievement and pride. Art therapy is a chance to learn a new art form or try out many different forms of art and find one that resonates with you. This process of creation and self-discovery can be healing and unlock new skills and passions you never knew you had. This can give you a feeling of accomplishment and help you understand yourself more deeply.

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Accessing art therapy

Unfortunately, accessing art therapy through the NHS is very unlikely, and most people who decide to go to art therapy fund it themselves.

Some insurance may cover art therapy, and charity funding may be available for some people.

If you are trying to access art therapy for addiction, it is far more likely you will encounter it as part of inpatient treatment in rehab, where it will be offered as a treatment among other forms of therapy.

What to expect

People tend to think of art therapy as painting and drawing, but art therapy means any form of creative expression used in a therapeutic context. This can mean more traditional mediums like painting, drawing and collage, but also sculpture and photography, written forms of art like journaling and poetry, and even drama, textiles and music.

Art therapy is about you and your creative side. It’s there for you to express yourself however you want to and provide an outlet for your emotions.

Art therapy can allow you to try out something you always wanted but never had the chance to. There is no pressure to get something ‘right’ or be amazing at a particular form of art. The goal is to engage in the process, learn as you go, and express yourself in ways you may not have had the opportunity to before.

Don’t struggle in silence

If you’re struggling with addiction and believe art therapy may be for you, then seek guidance from an addiction specialist today.

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Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.


Is art therapy a beneficial part of addiction treatment?
Art therapy proves effective in diverse settings, including schools, clinics, residential homes, hospitals, prisons, and nonclinical environments. It is especially beneficial in addiction treatment, addressing issues like shame, anxiety, and low self-esteem commonly faced by individuals in recovery.
Is art therapy ‘real therapy’?
Yes, art therapy is a legitimate form of therapy recognised by professional organisations like The British Association of Art Therapists. Art therapists in the UK undergo accredited Masters level training recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and are required to register with the HCPC upon qualification.

What does a normal art therapy session look like?

It isn’t possible to describe a typical art therapy session, as the process is very open-ended and led by you and what you want to do. Sessions and treatment plans can shift around depending on how you respond to different types of art, and your therapist will help you if you feel frustrated or stuck.

Can you talk during art therapy?

Yes! Art therapy is not just creating art in silence. You can talk about anything – the art you’re making, emotions and problems, and feelings that arise during the process. You also don’t have to talk – art therapy sessions can be talkative or quiet.