Using Art Therapy to Address Issues of Substance Abuse

Public Welfare, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Using Art Therapy to Address Issues of Substance Abuse


The drawings that accompany this article were created during art therapy sessions at Amethyst, Inc., a residential treatment center in Columbus, Ohio, for low-income women recovering from drug and alcohol dependence. The 10-year-old program provides residents with intensive treatment, transitional housing, peer support, and connections to a full network of community resources. Amethyst's goal is to provide a continuum of integrated services to help women achieve freedom from chemical dependency and gain the personal, educational, and job-related skills that will allow them to attain self-sufficiency.

Art therapy, says Michaele Barsnack, Amethyst chemical dependency counselor and art therapist registered (ATR), is a critical resource for the program's residents as they come face to face with the issues that accompany their transition to sobriety. "It helps addicts start taking responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and experiences," says Barsnack. "They're getting in touch with their feelings and communicating verbally about them, and the connection they create within themselves and with others in the group seems to be expedited through art therapy. It also helps a lot in breaking through denial .... We can use art therapy to bring things to their attention."

Art therapy-which can be used as a primary, parallel, or adjunctive therapy-is one of a variety of treatment methods available to individuals grappling with substance abuse issues and addiction. Through their artistic endeavors, patients can confront emotional conflicts that they may not have been aware of, foster self-awareness, and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns. Art therapists are trained to prescribe activities that can help facilitate the therapeutic process and to identify and address specific issues that may arise through participants' artwork.

Ohio's Capital University is one of a small number of American universities that offer an undergraduate major in art therapy. …

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