Blog by Sally Perkins. Photo by Victoria Bilsborough on Unsplash
Despite New Jersey being one of only two states country-wide to score an undisputed ‘10’ for having the right laws and regulations in place to help combat teen substance abuse, the state also boasts the 6th- highest teen overdose rate. The findings, which were disclosed by the organization known as Trust for America’s Health, highlight the importance of having both preventative and treatment measures in place to care for New Jersey’s most at-risk youth. Approximately 15% of substance treatment programs in the USA offer art therapy with nearly 11% of all teenagers in treatment having access to a program that makes use of art or music therapy.
The use of art therapy in treating substance abuse is not new. It actually dates back as far the 1950’s with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) particularly acknowledging the role art therapy plays in the management of addiction in teenagers. Art therapy encompasses a variety of creative activities such as drawing, painting, sculpting, making collages and taking and developing photographs. While art therapy mainly focuses on the creation of art some instances call for the patient to interpret and discuss existing works of art.
Why art therapy?
Regardless of how well we try to raise our children, many teenagers still fall victim to substance abuse. Teens who have stumbled down the alcohol and drug addiction path often carry a great fear of the stigma attached to attending conventional therapy and refuse much-needed and often life-saving help. Teenagers are often also very well-spoken and capable of saying exactly what is expected of them during therapy. According to Kristin Wilson, Director of Clinical Research at Newport Academy, teens know all the current buzzwords which can negatively impact verbal therapy. Art therapy, on the other hand, does not allow for this kind of manipulation. Art therapy can be a powerful addition to a 12-Step program, significantly increasing the potential success rate of such a program.
How does art therapy help with addiction?
Existing research pertaining to the benefits of art therapy in addiction is widely documented with findings pointing to several benefits for the patients. During art therapy, the therapist never openly analyzes the patient’s creations but rather encourages him to offer his own critiques. Art therapy is able to provide a positive outlet for communication, bringing underlying problems to the forefront, allowing the teenager to both recognize these problems and distance himself from them. Such creative therapy furthermore aids adolescent patients to not only develop healthier coping mechanisms but to move away from reflection towards a state of action.
All teenagers are different and their art pieces will be too, often revealing undisclosed struggles, joys and, ambitions. A neutral, incurious therapist can easily facilitate an instinctive display of feelings and thoughts can go a long way in establishing genuine trust which is of the utmost importance if therapy is to be successful. Art is a beautiful activity and with the slightest bit of encouragement, it can make a world of difference in the life of a troubled teen.
Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years’ experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and traveling as much as possible.