Creative addiction treatment: Using creativity for treatment
Have you ever noticed how time and space blur together in these moments of pure concentration and bliss?
When minutes turn into hours because you’re completely and utterly engrossed in whatever you’re doing?
Usually, this flow state occurs when we are doing something creative: making music, writing, coloring, or even cuddling our pets.
When it comes to addiction, research shows that those struggling with substance abuse often suffer from alexithymia, a condition where people have trouble understanding or describing their feelings and emotions, and often turn to drugs or alcohol to calm down and calm their minds.
Because many creative outlets do not require the use or even recognition of words and speech, they can be powerful tools for use in addiction treatment.
While not exclusive or exhaustive, the following list illustrates several different experiential modes of therapy that use creativity as a primary source of therapy.
Unlike a typical dance class with pink tights, cut buns and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, dance/movement therapy requires a simplified, healthier understanding of what it means to move, to dance.
In its heaviest and most basic form, dance/movement therapy puts a heavy emphasis on the body and the knowledge it holds, forcing the person to re-inhabit their body and “At the beginning of a dance/movement therapy session.
It is important to establish physical connection [as] a pathway to recovery that allows for the restoration of self-awareness, a skill that is hindered by drug and alcohol use,” one researcher wrote in 1997.
Because substance abuse of any form disconnects the self from the body, dance/movement therapy can be very powerful in helping the client reconnect and reconnect with themselves.
By observing patients move freely, therapists can recognize patterns and gestures and help when they notice anything problematic or potentially harmful, such as movements that restrict the free flow of breath or those that are not aware of space.
Movements and gestures that occur in groups can be interpreted as attempts to deny, desensitize or displace unwanted experience.
Encourages mindfulness, reduces stress hormones
Like dance and movement, yoga requires a certain level of presence and awareness in both mind and body.
With roots in India nearly 5,000 years ago, yoga has long been practiced as a way to improve the overall quality of life through a strong mind-body connection.
Through various components such as breathing, poses or postures (“asana”), meditation and more, yoga requires and cultivates awareness and when practiced regularly has the potential to influence and improve our body’s response to external stimuli such as stress.
All substance addictions, in one way or another, affect the way the brain works. Overall discomfort, anxiety and stress are just a handful of the psychological side effects that often prohibit people from seeking addiction treatment. Therefore, yoga can be a powerful tool to combat these negative emotions.
a positive way to create a shift in consciousness that, rather than providing an escape, empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body and spirit.”
Alternative pathways for dopamine production
We tend to oversimplify or take for granted what makes us feel most alive inside Music — both listening and creating — has been shown to trigger “dopaminergic pathways in a similar way to many illegal substances” that can, in turn, boost mood and reduce cravings, according to American Music Therapy Association, Inc. , listening to music can reduce stress and promote relaxation by soothing the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs such responses as “fight or flight” when our senses are heightened.
By working with clients to gain a complete picture of their listening habits, likes and dislikes, the music therapist can create a plan that not only supports the client’s existing relationship with music, but also avoids any existing contraindications or causes that they may be reminded of past lust-inducing experiences.
The assessment process prior to initiating initial treatment varies by client, therapist, and facility, but at a minimum “should assess the effects of substance abuse on the following health domains: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.”
Creative Expression through Art
Unlike writing or engaging in certain types of music, art is creativity that is created, shaped, and manipulated with your hands and imagination rather than engaging in any language.
Similar to dance and yoga, art – be it painting, sculpting, drawing or even coloring – does not require attention to words and therefore encourages a dive into the subconscious.
When it comes to using art as a creative alternative to other, more clinical ways to treat addiction, it’s important to note the difference between using art in therapy versus using art as treatment.
The former emphasizes the end goal or product of the art-making session and is usually done without a therapist present.
The latter brings together the creative process and what it can teach us about our tendencies, thoughts and feelings, guided by a therapist.
As the pressure to articulate thoughts and feelings into words is removed, those struggling with addiction are freed to express themselves more freely.
Describing some of the many ways creativity can improve quality of life, Psychology Today says that “engaging in a creative activity can open a new channel for people to connect with their emotions.