While many traumatic life events leave physical wounds or scars, the greater and longer-lasting damage is often to the victim’s sense of emotional stability and well-being.

It is for this reason that restorative practices such as art therapy and other creative means of coping with trauma have become such an integral part of the recovery process in the mental health community. As a form of non-verbal communication (in many cases), art allows victims of trauma to use creative writing, painting and other media to better process their experiences and unlock their emotional expressions when the words simply won’t come. As they become more comfortable in expressing themselves through these means, the process of making art further helps victims develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress and increase their self-esteem and self-awareness.

Those are some of the goals in play during the weekly Art Recovery sessions at the Frontline Foundations substance abuse treatment centers in Chesterton and LaPorte. Recognizing the role that art and other creative outlets can have on the recovery process, Frontline began offering its program about five years ago, with local artists and certified substance abuse counselors leading sessions focused on using everything from pastels and oil painting to graphic design and writing to encourage self-expression and artistic ability.

While the program is not technically considered art therapy (because it isn’t run by a professionally licensed art therapist), Frontline operations director Derek Frazier says the sessions have the same aspirations of getting attendees to reflect on their recovery journeys and rediscover their self-esteem through the expression of their natural gifts and talents.

“Art recovery allows our clients to express themselves in ways that they might not be able to verbalize, especially early in the recovery process,” he explains. “It allows them to break down barriers and work through their struggles.”

A typical Art Recovery session at Frontline usually begins with an open discussion centered on one of the traditional 12 steps of recovery, such as making amends, taking personal inventory or acknowledging character defects. Attendees then reflect on their personal experience with that step in a sketch that is discussed with the group, and then work on completing a piece of artwork—be it an essay or painting—that helps illustrate their journey of recovery. Frazier says the process is particularly helpful for clients who aren’t as willing to verbalize their challenges and struggles.

“Art recovery allows those who may not speak out in other groups and those who might not be comfortable with speaking about their issues to have a voice,” he notes.

While Art Recovery sessions are but one of the many services Frontline offers to those trying to get past the pain of addiction and rebuild their lives, Frazier says it has become an integral piece of the recovery process for many clients. Not only has it provided another means of opening up and confronting their struggles during the critical early stages, it has also become a means of sustained engagement in what really is a lifelong journey.

“Art recovery has been a success in many ways,” Frazier says, “but one thing in particular that we’re really happy to see is that clients continue to stay plugged in even after their treatment is completed as a positive outlet and support system.”

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