Music, Play, and Art Therapy: What Are the Benefits of Creative Experiential Therapies?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery May 19, 2024

Music, Play, and Art Therapy: What Are the Benefits of Creative Experiential Therapies?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle famously said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” This is the same reason why creative experiential therapies can be so effective – they help get to the underlying issues of one’s addiction and/or mental health struggles. They can also be a critical component of a recovery plan that aims to heal at the cellular level.

The Importance of Healing at the Cellular Level

Healing at the cellular level is all about healing the entire mind, body, soul, and spirit. Also, healing at the cellular level has a lot to do with “holism” and the interconnectedness of all components of recovery.

This interconnectedness can also be fostered by a recovery plan that utilizes creativity. It also makes recovery much more interesting and exciting. As Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Healing at the cellular level is also about making sure that recovery is comprehensive, innovative, and integrated. At Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we find that “one-note” recovery plans rarely work, which is why all of our recovery plans utilize all avenues of treatment. From the psychotherapeutic to the holistic to the experiential, we have access to all of the means, methods, and modalities that ensure a well-rounded and healthy recovery. Our recovery plans also focus on getting to the root/core causes of one’s external issues.

The Importance of Getting at the Root/Core Causes of Addiction and Mental Health Issues

The renowned Irish writer Jonathan Swift once said, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” Many of the issues that we struggle with also have underlying root/core causes that are invisible to those who aren’t seeking.

Many people don’t realize that the behaviors that they are struggling with are actually linked to underlying issues. Often, these issues are related to negative past experiences and traumas. 

Also, many people don’t realize just how common experiences of trauma actually are. According to the World Mental Health Survey reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, “[D]ata showed that at some time in their life 70.4% of the respondents had experienced at least one type of a traumatic event. The specific rates were: 14% had experienced intimate partner or sexual violence, 34.3% accidents or injuries, 22.9% physical violence, 13.1% war-related events, 34.1% the unexpected or traumatic death of a loved one, and 35.7% experienced traumas that happened to loved ones (e.g., serious illness of a child)… These findings make clear that it is rather normal to be exposed to a very upsetting event in one’s lifetime.”

These traumas and other underlying issues are often addressed via psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). However, these issues can also be addressed via other means, methods, and modalities, including experiential therapy.

Better Understanding Experiential Therapies

Experiential therapy is based on the concept of “experiential learning.” According to the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology, “The Experiential Learning Theory… provides a holistic model of the learning process and a multilinear model of adult development. It emphasizes the central role that the person’s subjective experience plays in their learning process. Learning from both cognitive and emotional perspectives is at the heart of experiential learning.” That is a crucial part of experiential therapy – it involves a focus on both cognitions (thoughts) and emotions (feelings). 

It is also important to note that there are many types of experiential therapies. First, there are “active” (also known as “adventure”) experiential therapies. For example, nature immersion therapy focuses on the way one interacts with the outside world via nature activities such as hiking. This can be highly beneficial. According to the National Park Service, “5 minutes walking in nature improves mood, self-esteem, and relaxation. Frequent exposure to nature reduces anxiety and depression while promoting a sense of well-being and fulfillment. Physical activity in a green space can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels by 15%.” Second, there are “creative” experiential therapies.

Better Understanding Creative Experiential Therapies

Creativity is something that active addiction and mental illness often try to rob from the individual struggling. In many instances, while active, they succeed at doing so. However, the good news is that creativity is never fully eliminated; it just gets held back by external and internal struggles.

Then there are many people who feel that they just are not creative people. This is a fallacy. Everyone has something to offer, both for themselves and for the world at large.

The iconic American author and teacher Julia Cameron said, “Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, a blank easel, or an empty stage.” That is important to remember when it comes to creative experiential therapies – there is no right or wrong way to do it, everyone is starting from scratch. It is a beautiful opportunity for renewal. 

Now, there are many types of creative experiential therapies. However, the most well-known and often discussed are art therapy, play therapy, and music therapy.

Healing With Music Therapy

Many people shy away from music therapy because they feel that they are not “musically inclined.” This is overcomplicating things. One does not have to sing, play an instrument, or even know anything about music to participate in music therapy. The key is to keep it simple. As the great Jazz musician Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Music therapy has been getting more and more attention in recent years as more and more information is coming out about its efficacy. According to the World Journal of Psychiatry, “In last decades, a growing body of evidence in the use of musical intervention in clinical setting have been seen, concerning singing, music listening, musical improvisation, and other musical activities, as long as more structured music therapy (MT) treatments. Given that music engages a variety of brain areas involved in emotion, motivation, cognition, and motor functions, musical interventions have been used to increase socialization and cognitive, emotional, and neuromotor functioning.”

There are also many other benefits to music therapy. The following are just a few:

  • Helps with emotional regulation
  • Can reduce anxiety and depression
  • Lowers stress levels
  • Helps with relaxation
  • Can help with mood regulation
  • May help with sleep patterns 
  • Helps with communication skills
  • Can improve social skills
  • Offers something to rely on if addiction cravings occur

Play therapy also offers similar benefits, along with many others. It is also highly accessible.

Healing With Play Therapy

Many adults, and not just those struggling with addiction and/or mental illness, forget the importance of “play.” This is especially true for high-functioning individuals with particularly demanding careers and lifestyles.

Play therapy originated as a therapy solely for working with children. According to the peer-reviewed journal Materia Socio-Medica, “Play therapy is defined as the systematic use of a theoretical model that establishes an interpersonal process, in which trained therapists use the therapeutic power of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth. Play therapy is a form of psychotherapeutic approach of the children and a psycho-diagnostic tool.” 

However, in recent years, it has become more widely understood that “play” is also essential for an adult’s mental health and growth. Bringing the power of play back into an individual’s life is a way to rekindle the joys that were felt before a mental health or addiction diagnosis. It can also be highly beneficial for individuals struggling with childhood trauma because a play setting can help to bring up some of the underlying emotions that need to be addressed at the cellular level. Another creative experiential therapy that can help with this is art therapy.

Healing With Art Therapy

Art therapy is perhaps the most well-known creative experiential therapy. This may simply be because “art” is such a broad term that it can involve any type of creative endeavor, from writing to painting to pottery.

So, what exactly is art therapy? According to the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology, “Art therapy, is defined by the British Association of Art Therapists as: ‘a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Clients referred to art therapists are not required to have experience or skills in the arts… The overall goal of its practitioners is to enable clients to change and grow on a personal level through the use of artistic materials in a safe and convenient environment.’”

Art therapy also has many other benefits. According to the medical journal Cureus, “Art therapy is used most commonly to treat mental illnesses and can aid in controlling manifestations correlated with psychosocially challenging behaviors, slowing cognitive decline, and enhancing the quality of life. Art therapy can help people express themselves more freely, improve their mental health, and improve interpersonal relationships. The basis of art therapy is established on the idea that people can recover and feel better via artistic expression.” 

Other benefits of art therapy include:

  • Helps with nonverbal communication
  • Improves self-awareness and self-esteem
  • Nourishes self-expression
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • May help with negative sleep patterns
  • Improves sensorimotor functions
  • Reduces stress and promotes relaxation
  • Aids in emotional regulation

Creative experiential therapies like art therapy can also be highly beneficial when utilized alongside other therapies. For example, they can help to bolster communication skills that are needed for psychotherapies like CBT.

Experiential Therapies and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

CBT is the most well-known and utilized psychotherapy currently being used today. The primary reason for this is that CBT has a lot of evidence to back its efficacy.

CBT has a relatively straightforward premise. According to the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, “Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) refers to a class of interventions that share the basic premise that mental disorders and psychological distress are maintained by cognitive factors. The core premise of this treatment approach… holds that maladaptive cognitions contribute to the maintenance of emotional distress and behavioral problems… [T]hese maladaptive cognitions include general beliefs, or schemas, about the world, the self, and the future, giving rise to specific and automatic thoughts in particular situations.” 

Essentially, how we think of ourselves affects how we see ourselves and others in the world. When these thoughts (cognitions) are negative, then the views will be negative as well. CBT aims to identify the negative thoughts so they can be healthily modified and adjusted. This is done via a practice of one-on-one conversation with a professional psychotherapist. However, some people have trouble with this face-to-face verbal interaction, which is where experiential therapy can help. Artistic expression can create a bridge by which a conversation can start in CBT. It can open everything up to the healing process much faster.

Artistic expression does not have to be solely intellectual, either. One can express oneself via physical activity, too. This can happen in surf therapy.

Healing With Surf Therapy

Surfing is sacred on the Big Island of Hawaii. That is also why the Big Island of Hawaii is an ideal place to participate in surf therapy. It is also where some of the best surf breaks in the world are located. In fact, a mere 15-minute journey from our 30-acre luxury property sits one of the best surf breaks on the island: Honoli’i. Here one can participate in the very expressive art form that is surfing via interactive surf therapy.

Surf therapy also has many other benefits. According to the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “A growing body of evidence worldwide has validated the use of surfing as a therapeutic mediator to achieve positive change such as increased well-being. Surf therapy is defined by the International Surf Therapy Organisation as an intervention that combines surf instruction, surfing, and structured individual and/or group activities to promote physical, psychosocial, and psychological well-being. In addition to physical exercise, surf therapy interventions typically include individual mentoring, social skills development, psychoeducation, and group discussions focused on increasing resilience and personal growth.”

Surf therapy is also an excellent way to clear one’s mind to get it ready for creative experiential therapies like art therapy. Other methods to create this mind-state are yoga and meditation.

Experiential Therapies With Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation have long been used as means to help calm the mind and find a sense of inner peace. For thousands of years, these methods were used solely as religious or spiritual practices. However, in recent years they have become integral in the world of holistic wellness healing.

The benefits of yoga are many and cover many bases, from the psychical to the emotional to the spiritual. According to the International Journal of Yoga (IJOY), “Yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”

Meditation also offers many benefits besides clearing the mind for participation in creative experiential therapies. According to the Journal of Research in Ayurveda (AYU), “Research has confirmed a myriad of health benefits associated with the practice of meditation. These include stress reduction, decreased anxiety, decreased depression, reduction in pain (both physical and psychological), improved memory, and increased efficiency.” 

Healing at the Cellular Level With Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

The iconic painter Vincent Van Gogh famously said, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Mental illness and addiction try to silence the voice inside that reminds us that anything is possible. 

At Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we are here to help heal at the cellular level and bring that voice back. The voice that says, “I can do this, I will do this,” and ultimately, “I did do this!”

There are many creative and interactive experiential therapies (such as music, play, and art therapy) that can help people heal from addiction and mental illness at the cellular level. This is especially true for individuals who want to try something other than “traditional” talk therapy. These therapies can also be particularly helpful for those who struggle with verbal communication. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you onto the positive path to recovery right away. For more information about the benefits of creative and experiential therapies, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.