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Creative therapies allow people to express themselves in non-verbal ways. This gives people the opportunity to explore their complex emotions without having to articulate them or even truly understand them. Art and music interact with a different part of the brain than verbal communication, and therapies centered around creative expressions capitalize on that. Through this creative expression, people can begin to process and understand their thoughts and emotions in new ways, often leading to a more positive mental state. Art and music therapy are understudied areas; however, the research that has been conducted boasts many potential benefits.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy uses music to help people recover from mental, physical, or behavioral disorders. Since each client’s needs are specific to them, music therapy is often utilized in different ways. One of the most popular ways in which music therapy is utilized is as an outlet for people in recovery. For example, if someone is feeling tense or stressed, music therapy can help them calm down and focus their attention on something stimulating and positive. Instead of turning to former vices, such as substances, they can direct their energy into something creative and productive. 

Activities Utilized in Music Therapy

Like traditional therapy, music therapy may be conducted in individual or group sessions. There are different activities utilized in group therapy depending on the specific needs of the client. 

Some musical activities typically include:

  • Singing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Dancing
  • Writing music
  • Listening to music
  • Discussing lyrics

Since music is such a diverse form of art, it allows for flexibility when used in therapy. Professionals conducting therapy sessions will often discuss the client’s needs in order to understand the aspect of music therapy that would best serve them. 

Benefits of Music Therapy

The benefits of music therapy can vary from person to person since there’s no standard way of conducting music therapy. Based on the specific activities conducted or skills practiced in each session, as well as the responsiveness of the client, the benefits of music therapy vary greatly. Studies have shown that some potential benefits of music therapy include:

  • Improved memory
  • Improved mood
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Improved communication skills
  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Improved critical thinking
  • Improved social functioning
  • Reduced somatic pain
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of depression

All of these benefits, in conjunction with more traditional treatments like individual therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or trauma-release exercises, can greatly improve mental health and make the recovery process easier for many clients. 

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is primarily used the same as music therapy, except art therapy utilizes a broader range of creative activities to engage clients. Art therapy is intended as a creative outlet for clients who may not be as moved by music. Art therapy is intended to create an engaging atmosphere where clients can exercise motor functions while also creating art that can be both interpreted and appreciated.

Activities Utilized in Art Therapy

Like music therapy, art therapy may be conducted in individual or group sessions. There are various activities utilized in group therapy, which all depend on each client’s unique needs. 

Some activities in art therapy typically include:

  • Drawing or sketching
  • Painting
  • Creating collages
  • Sculpting
  • Ceramics

Preparing For an Art Therapy Session

Art therapy is more visual than music therapy, so it’s often conducted with different goals in mind. For example, one activity in art therapy may require the client to draw or paint a self-portrait. This gives the therapist and client a chance to look for meaning in the portrait and discuss the client’s self-image. Prompts like these are intended to guide the creation of the art without hindering the freedom of the client to express themselves. This also leaves room for the therapist and client to discuss any symbolism or hidden meaning in the piece. 

Typically, art therapy is conducted by a therapist trained specifically in art therapy so they can guide the experience and help clients understand their art. Specific prompts, such as a self-portrait, may have specific questions and goals attached to them. Alternatively, however, therapists may ask clients to draw or paint whatever they want and follow the session up with questions such as:

  • What went through your mind while creating this piece?
  • What emotions did you feel while creating this?
  • Does this piece evoke any new emotions?
  • Are you satisfied with the outcome of this piece?
  • How does this piece relate to your recovery?

These questions provide the therapist and client opportunities to reflect on the art and understand the significance of their choices.

Benefits of Art Therapy

Like music, the benefits of art therapy vary greatly depending on the type of art created, the goals and needs of the client, and their skill set. However, research indicates that typical benefits of art therapy include:

  • Improved motor functions
  • Improved memory
  • Improved mood
  • Improved communication skills
  • Improved critical thinking
  • Improved problem-solving and creative thinking
  • Reduced somatic pain
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of depression

Due to their abstract nature, both music and art therapy are almost practiced exclusively alongside other therapy methods. Art therapy is best when paired with talk therapy, providing multiple outlets for clients to explore their emotions. Though art and music therapy may seem trivial or a waste of precious time at first in the complicated recovery process, they’ve proven to be extremely beneficial. There are so many complicated emotions involved in the recovery process; art and music therapy allow clients to explore these emotions in a fun, safe, and creative way that feels like a brief escape from reality.

Often, the recovery process is easiest and most successful when a variety of approaches toward healing are taken. While understudied, art and music therapy have proven to be unique and successful paths toward recovery. Art and music therapy force our minds to engage with ourselves and our emotions in new ways and allow us to explore these emotions in a safe environment. With the help of a professional at West Coast Recovery Centers, you can use these modalities to discover things about yourself you likely wouldn’t have otherwise. If you have any additional questions about art or music therapy or how we implement them at West Coast Recovery Centers, give us a call at (760) 492-6509.