Why Art Therapy Is a Foundational Element to Healing During Initial Treatment

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery September 6, 2023

Why Art Therapy Is a Foundational Element to Healing During Initial Treatment

One of the most iconic artists of the 20th Century, Pablo Picasso, once famously said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” The truth is that art is one of the most powerful expressions that we have as human beings. Art can communicate what we are thinking and feeling without ever having to say a word. Whether it be dance, drama, music, or visual, art can convey heartache, joy, yearning, meaning, and so much more by simply engaging in creative form. Art is powerful. This is also why art therapy can be so beneficial during initial treatment (and beyond).

Making Sure to Make the Right Recovery Choice Right Away

Before engaging in art therapy, or any form of therapy for that matter, it is important to make the right choice regarding a treatment center and treatment plan. Doing some due diligence and research early can ensure that a recovery center holds the same values and shares the same goals that we do. 

This initial work can also save some serious time and effort down the road. Choosing the right recovery center can give us the right tools that we need to recover on the cellular level and ultimately avoid relapse. Also, finding the right recovery center means finding the right environment and the right treatment options that are going to help us excel both in recovery and beyond.

When it comes to setting, there may be no better place on Earth than the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island. This environment offers the optimal backdrop for one to break away, unplug, and recover from issues of addiction or mental health. It also offers prime opportunities to engage in experiential therapies like the art therapy we offer at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

What Exactly Is Art Therapy?

The renowned American composer Stephen Sondheim said, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” This is one of the fundamental aspects of art therapy: to gain insight from our creativity. 

Now, the term “art” is one of those terms that is so broad that when it is used, everyone envisions something different. Ultimately, it is impossible to concretely define, which is also what makes it so magical. The same feelings can come up when the term “art therapy” comes up, and unfortunately, this can give art therapy a bit of an unfocused reputation. However, this is not the case. Art therapy has therapeutic specifications and has been quantifiably studied.

In their clinical write-up, Art Therapy, Doctors Iguina and Kashan utilize the definition of art therapy offered by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). According to the AATA, “Art therapy, as facilitated by a professional art therapist, is a therapeutic modality used over ongoing sessions to ‘improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress and advance societal and ecological change.’” Now, initially, this therapy resided in the realm of physical ailments with severe symptoms such as cancer or dementia. However, it has since been shown to be highly effective in the mental health and addiction arenas.

An example of art therapy and its efficacy in healing issues of mental health ah been shown in numerous studies regarding depression and anxiety. According to the peer-reviewed article, Art Therapy: A Complementary Treatment for Mental Disorders by Frontiers in Psychology, “In recent years, many studies have shown that art therapy plays a significant role in alleviating depression symptoms and anxiety… an observational survey [performed] about populations in prisons of northern Florida and identified that art therapy significantly reduces depressive symptoms. Similarly, a randomized, controlled, and single-blind study about art therapy for depression with the elderly showed that painting as an adjuvant treatment for depression can reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms.” 

These same studies have shown efficacy in helping people recover from many other issues of mental health, such as schizophrenia, substance use disorder (SUD), and bipolar I and II disorder, just to name a few. The reason for the ability of art therapy to work on such a broad spectrum of mental illnesses is that it addresses the core/root causes of the negative behaviors that many of us struggle with. Addressing these core issues is critical for healing on the cellular level.

Utilizing Art Therapy to Heal at the Cellular Level

Self-expression is something that is often muted when issues of mental illness or addiction enter our lives. This is because these issues of mental health can be all-consuming. Instead of creating and constructing new ideas, we end up constrained by these negative cognitive, emotional, and behavioral forces.

However, self-expression is vital for the soul, and it is vital for healing at the cellular level. Art therapy offers the opportunity to deal with pressure, outrage, worry, trauma, and other sometimes debilitating emotions. Also, it does so with almost zero chance of negative side effects. Ultimately, the worst that may come of it is that it is unenjoyable and doesn’t have the results one hoped for. In that case, one can either try another form of art or abandon it altogether without having to worry about any adverse after-effects.

Art therapy can also come in many forms. While it originally resided in visual arts such as painting, drawing, or sculpting, as previously mentioned, art therapy is now open to any form of self-expression. Now, while the most popular form of art therapy still tends to reside in the “fine arts” realm, there is also music therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, and creative writing therapy. This last form of written therapy can be particularly effective as it can be the glue that all other treatment modalities in a recovery plan together.

Journaling as a Link From Art Therapy to Other Treatments

The act of journaling can be an ideal way of expressing ourselves without needing any tools other than a pen and a pad. It is also optimal for those of us who feel less inclined to learn a new skill, such as painting or sculpting. However, it is important to remember that journaling can certainly be a skill that can be exceptionally honed over time, and there should be no fear of needing skills for visual art therapy. It is about expression, not precision.

Journaling can not only be a part of many therapies, including the focus of creative writing therapy, but it is also a great technique for gaining a sense of mindfulness. It also can be a sporadic or automatic style of writing that does not require any style limitations, length, or grammar requirements. As a specific type of art therapy, an art therapist can utilize what we write in our journal to help identify the core causes of our emotional and behavioral issues, so they can be addressed and adjusted, or even avoided, as the case may be.

Journaling also offers us an opportunity to write and dissect our experiences with other forms of therapy. Whether they be “traditional,” experiential, or holistic, journaling can help us understand how these therapies work and even track any progress that is being made. Journaling can also be exceptional when a recovery plan includes many different forms of treatment modalities because it can help to illuminate how they ultimately work together or perhaps how they come into conflict. From there, essential adjustments and modifications can be made.

Avoiding ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Care: Choosing a Comprehensive Recovery Plan and Trying Multiple Therapies

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we understand that broad, impersonal recovery plans rarely work. We also understand that recovery plans that are too rigidly focused on one modality often sell a client short on their recovery. 

This is why we offer multiple modalities, all of which have the opportunity to make a comprehensive recovery plan that is tailored solely to each client’s needs. Now, this includes “traditional” evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and narrative therapy (in which journaling is critical). We also utilize experiential therapy, known as nature immersion therapy, because of the tropical backdrop that we have just outside our recovery doors.

Utilizing Experiential Therapies Like Nature Immersion Therapy

Nature immersion therapy is an experiential therapy that allows individuals to reconnect with nature in a way that often gets lost in today’s techno-boom era. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Worldwide, countries are gradually losing their ecosystems, as natural landscapes are being replaced by human-built features and infrastructures,” and “According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of the world’s population has lived in an urban environment since 2014, and this is expected to increase to 65% by 2030.”

There is a serious need for a reconnection to the land, and the land just beyond our 30-acre property at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is like none other on the planet. Our recovery center is located just minutes away from the Pacific Ocean and some of the unique aquatic life on the Hamakua Coast. There are even opportunities to swim with tropical fish, green sea turtles, and giant manta rays for an even deeper aquatic experience. 

We also offer surf therapy as we have a local break 15 minutes away called Honoli’i that offers some world-class regular surfing and boogie boarding. Not only can this experiential therapy bring some much-needed exhilaration to a treatment program, but it also offers some optimal meditation time between waves as the ocean mist sprays and the green sea turtles swim underneath.

There are also opportunities to visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world (the Akaka and the Rainbow Falls), as well as look out over Laupahoehoe Point, explore the Kaumana Caves, take in the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and experience a live volcano (Kilauea Volcano). All of these options can change our entire outlook in life, give us once-in-a-lifetime experiences to journal about, and maybe even offer up some inspiration to bring to an art therapy session. There is no doubt that the Hamakua Coast can aid us in our goal of healing on a cellular level.

Also, there are many other types of therapy that are unique to the recovery experience at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. One of these therapies is both extensive and critical to our values. This is our nutrition therapy.

Utilizing Nutrition Therapy

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we hold true to the maxim that “food is medicine,” which is why we stay hyper-focused on providing the necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants required for optimal recovery. According to the peer-reviewed article New Approaches to Nutritional Therapy, “A paradigm shift in nutritional sciences is underway. Nutrigenetics/nutrigenomics, the study of the relationship between gene expression and nutrition, proposes that disease can be prevented and reversed by drastically altering the nutritional environment.” 

We believe in this healing potential of food, which is why we have licensed and certified nutritionists and dieticians on-site 24/7 to help with any of the nutrition and dietary needs or questions from our clients. This is also we are the only rehab center on the Big Island certified to treat eating disorders (ED). We also focus on the gut microbiome to ensure that the foods we offer not only heal us physically but also energize and restore us mentally and emotionally. 

Also, many people do not realize the extensive level of vitamin and mineral deficiency that issues of addiction and mental health can cause. This is why we have a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) on-site at all times and offer pharmaceutical-grade supplements and infusion therapy that can get these nutrient levels back up in the quickest amount of time. We also focus on nutrition on a very primal scale to help our clients connect to their food and leave their footprint on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is via our horticulture therapy program.

Enjoying Horticulture Therapy

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Horticulture could have emotional benefits, such as reducing stress, reducing psychiatric symptoms, stabilizing mood, and increasing the sense of tranquility, spirituality, and enjoyment… it could help people to reduce fatigue and restore attention and cognitive ability…increase self-efficacy, self-esteem, and quality of life… [and] help people to engage in purposeful activities and develop a sense of accomplishment and productivity.” With these types of benefits and virtually no drawbacks, horticulture therapy is an ideal way to heal naturally at the cellular level.

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we now have vines of lilikoi fruit, rows of citrus, and fruit trees, such as lime, orange, tangerine, and longan (native to the Island and rich in antioxidants) that are directly cultivated by clients. We also have a variety of planter boxes that our clients can get their hands dirty in and reengage with the food that they eat. So, not only is food medicine, but at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, it is homegrown medicine. While the experience here is not art therapy, it can open up a new world that is waiting for a much-needed creative outlet.

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab: The Right Choice for Art Therapy and Comprehensive Care

Pablo Picasso also once famously declared, “To finish a work? Or to finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow, the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture.” That is emblematic of what we believe here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

We don’t treat clients to simply recover at the moment and go back out into the world. No, we guide clients in a way that they can continually grow in their recovery. Remember, like an art project, recovery is a journey, not a destination, and to be finished would be boring and bland and bring the end to the beauty that is the art of existence.

When it comes to healing at the cellular level, it is important to choose a recovery plan that includes comprehensive care from multiple areas of treatment. This includes different types of therapy. Doing so will help get to the core root issues that are often the cause of negative addiction and/or mental health behaviors. One of these therapies that is particularly effective at getting at these core issues is art therapy. Art therapy is a complementary therapy for addiction and mental health disorders that can be a perfect supplement for any recovery plan. If you feel like you or a loved one is struggling with issues of addiction, we can help. For more, contact Exclusive Hawaii Rehab at (808) 775-0200.