Embracing Art in Recovery

The Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) defines art therapy as a process that combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding.

Amanda O’Keefe, Therapeutic Recreationist at Ontario Shores presented on the importance of embracing art in recovery at the Grand Rounds held on June 11.

The therapeutic use of art in recovery explores five domains - social, physical, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional. These goals are reached by promoting creativity, providing an outlet for self-expression, creating peer interaction and the chance to learn from one another, and providing opportunities for patients to enhance their self-esteem and improve cognitive skills.

“Through art, they can articulate different feelings,” said O’Keefe. “We’re really promoting socialization.”

There are roughly 16 different types of art therapy outlets utilized at Ontario Shores. These outlets include arts and crafts, painting and drawing, and a drop-in Art Café program started by O’Keefe and a patient at Ontario Shores who acquired visual processing brain damage and needed to re-train his vision in order to keep it.

“I still do art for a number of reasons,” he said. “Not only has my vision improved, but there have been cognitive changes. I process things quicker and I store information that I had difficulty storing before.”

O’Keefe went on to note that research exploring the use of art therapy in recovery is rapidly growing, but there is a need for more research into the topic. She also noted that art based practices are beneficial to psychological and social recovery, particularly in the areas of self-discovery, self-expression and relationships.

The Art Café at Ontario Shores is a drop-in program, open every Thursday to staff and patients. The program uses relaxing music to help promote a comfortable atmosphere, and gives participants options of mediums and subjects to promote choice and independence.

O’Keefe said incorporating art into every day clinical practice would be beneficial to clinicians and their patients. She mentioned that art supplies should be readily available in all units, and patients should be supported by their workers to get to the Art Café (for example, patients who do not have grounds privileges could have supervision arranged for them.) O’Keefe also said it is worth exploring a non-traditional approach in assessments by using art-based approaches during one-on-ones, assessments and consults.

“Not only will you understand their thoughts and feelings, but it will be easier for [patients] to open up to you,” she said.