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Creative expression is the learned and intentional action of expressing oneself outwardly through artistic means, such as drawing or music, to express inner feelings and self-perception. Creative expression is different from traditional therapeutic methods because it allows for implicit engagement of what is top of mind instead of an explicit explanation. Said another way, those engaged in creative expression are able to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and values without the need for words. 

Creative Expression in Recovery 

Creative expression as a therapeutic modality has been introduced in schools across the country with positive effects. It’s been reported that adolescents who were offered art therapy in the school gave students an opportunity to relax. This journal by frontiers in Psychology highlights the potential benefits of a “personal and emotional process focusing on [individuals] which allowed them to express their feelings without the fear of judgment.” Further, schools that offered creative expression as a therapeutic modality and viewed the therapist as supportive were considered to be “supportive and enabling greater acceptance.” 

Since art therapy is more about the process than the project, it allows for the removal of judgment, as mentioned. Without judgment, there is no pressure to create a specific product. Rather, those experimenting with artistic methods of expression are encouraged to do just that: experiment. This allows for greater freedom of movement within the present moment as there is no looking forward toward an end goal. Therefore, creative expression is a mindfulness-based activity that fits neatly into the therapeutic model.

Types of Creative Expression

In a therapeutic setting, there is no shortage of opportunities for creative expression. These can include:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Coloring
  • Dancing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Sculpting
  • Photography
  • Videography
  • Knitting or crocheting
  • Sewing
  • Sculpting 
  • Writing

Taking time to explore various options that resonate with you will help you discover which method will work best.

Finding the Right Type of Creative Expression

The goal of creative expression is to outwardly express the emotions and thoughts that exist internally. For this reason, the method of creative expression you choose should encourage you to remain in the present moment so that you can feel your feelings and interpret or express them through your creative pursuit. 

It may take some time, trial, and error to discover what works best for you. Start by looking at any hobbies you currently have or once enjoyed. Do you already paint or sew? If this is the case, you might enjoy diving back into that hobby with the goal of self-expression. 

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the following artistic prompts:

#1 Photography

Go outside with your phone or camera and look around for anything that visually reflects how you are feeling or aspire to be. Take photos from different angles, and consider playing with the colors in a photo editor.

#2 Dancing

Turn on music that suits your mood, and match your movements to the music. Try changing tempos or dancing for a specific period of time. Make a note of how your body feels as you are moving.

#3 Sculpting

Play with some clay or dough until you feel it has taken the right shape. Smash it down and start again. Take time to think about the clay in your hands and how it feels to be building or rebuilding what you are working on. 

#4 Coloring

Meditative coloring books for adults are popular, but there is no need to purchase something new. You can create your own coloring page or print one off online. Reflect on what colors you choose and why. Think about how it feels to put the color on the page.

#5 Writing

Finding prompts online is a quick search away. Unlike other creative pursuits, writing requires you have words for self-expression. For that reason, this may not be the activity you choose, and that’s perfectly okay. However, if you do have words ready and waiting inside you, set a timer and write them all out without judgment. When you are done, take a moment to check in with yourself about how the writing made you feel. 

Other ideas include starting a new knitting project or recording a TikTok challenge. Find yourself in whatever activity you choose. Remember that it is about the process rather than the project. The goal is to stay present with what you are doing in the moment without concern for the end product.

Creative Expression and Holistic Treatment

Creative expression allows for the exploration of personal pleasures in the addiction recovery process. It is a deeply personal process and fits nicely in the holistic model of treatment used by West Coast Recovery Centers (WCRC). At WCRC, our approach examines the whole person rather than their addiction, looking at both body and mind when establishing treatment. This is because there is no universal root cause for addiction, just as there is no universal fix-all for people. Each person needs to be met where they are in order for treatment to be most effective. 

Creative expression is a deeply personal and emotional practice that focuses on judgment-free feelings and emotions evoked during the creative process. It can take multiple forms, including painting, drawing, knitting, sewing, sculpting, or photography. Discovering which type of creative expression works best for you can be done on your own and may take some trial and error. However, because creative expression disavows judgment, it is an excellent tool for recovery from substance use. If you or someone you know needs help with addiction recovery, West Coast Recovery Center offers a number of therapeutic avenues to explore. Learn more by calling (760) 492-6509 today. Our team is ready to support your recovery.

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