The Benefits of Art Therapy for Individuals Recovering from Addiction

July 18, 2023

By Lisa Lounsbury

A weekend slip in my addiction recovery process felt like the proverbial faceplant in the dirt. I needed to make a change. Only going to meetings clearly wasn’t keeping me sober anymore. In frustration and angst, I picked up my paintbrushes and began making large, energetic brush strokes on paper – marks that depicted the raw expression of all of my tangled emotions. I continued to add more color, more brush strokes, and more output of energy until I had the feeling that I was spent. I realized I felt better. I could breathe. I had created from a raw and unfiltered space deep down in my gut. I felt a sense of release followed by relief. I felt different, transformed. I decided then to add the process of making an art journal, a form of visual prayer, to my recovery journey. I would talk to God, listen to scripture, and paint with abandon, without any expectation of a specific outcome. It was a very freeing experience.

Over the past 18+ years of sobriety, I continued to attend meetings and make art. It’s the art making with God that initially kept me feeling stable and grounded so I could keep going to meetings and being around others. The art making helped me establish a better relationship with God, and God helped me to see myself as a valued part of that community. That’s how art therapy can work, especially for people in recovery from addictions. We need to feel grounded in a relationship with a Higher Power and feel like we belong.

From a neurological standpoint, art making gives the individual a dopamine and endorphin loop, similar to what alcohol and drugs do, as the same part of the brain is activated. Also, the novelty of being asked to create art based on a specific topic or situation initiates neural pathway growth, contributing to brain plasticity. Art making can be a constructive, rather than destructive, way to get relief.

When I see clients in treatment centers who are 1-3 days sober, oftentimes, they are so shaky that they can barely hold a paintbrush, so I give them air dry clay to mold and shape. Frequently, clients can’t put into words how they are feeling. Their cognitive abilities are foggy as they are still under the influence and can’t think straight. Art therapy is perfect for them. With the clay, they are getting a kinesthetic experience to take on some of their fear, angst, and anxiety. The client is able to ameliorate their feelings into the art, like the material is absorbing their emotions. The client ends up feeling better without knowing why and starts asking for other art materials to create alongside their group mates.

Art therapy helps individuals gain understanding. A trained art therapist can help a client recognize what shows up in their artwork. For example, in one of our groups, a man was painting a mask to look like a hockey goalie mask. As we discussed its meaning, he suddenly realized his addiction path started after an injury ended his recruitment to become a professional hockey goalie.

Art therapy is a way for individuals to make a statement about who they are, gain mastery over materials and improve their self-esteem as well as learn about relationship patterns. In group sessions, people are able to connect with each other and develop a sense of community as they acknowledge and celebrate their individuality.

Art can speak when words fail us.


Read about the Premier Arts Collective Partnership Program with ANEW + Art Lab Rx.

Alison Hughey

Music Therapist

Alison Hughey’s greatest passion is guiding clients in connection, comfort and communication through music. Since studying music therapy at Converse University and earning her board certification in 2010, she has served clients from 18 months of age up to 103 years old and contributed to research in community mental health and dementia care. Alison wears multiple “music hats” as a worship leader, band member, and music & wellness workshop facilitator.

Jared Emerson

Performance Artist

Jared Emerson is world renown for his captivating performance art and studio originals.  His art has raised millions of dollars for charities and ministries around the world.  Jared’s work with Premier Arts Collective allows him to use his gifts by engaging in interactive art classes and performances across the globe; using his art for healing, therapy and restoration for those who have experienced trauma and abuse.

Born in Michigan and now residing in Greenville, South Carolina, Jared’s personal mission has led him to perform and create art, in a vast array of media, for a large number of collectors, corporations, churches and charities, with his performance piece “Face of God” being the most requested.

Jared’s credits include: ReviveUs 2 with Kirk Cameron, Winter Jam concert tour, TEDx, K-LOVE, CBS Sports, Game Plan for Life, The 700 Club, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, NASCAR, Museum of the Bible, Coca-Cola, Michelin, Land Rover, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Pistons, Family Christian Stores and countless others.

Jared’s success has made his artwork sought after by many celebrities and sports figures.  His clients include: Carrie Underwood, Carson Wentz, Jack Nicklaus, Guy Fieri, Joe Gibbs, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Jimmy John, Forrest Lucas, Smokey Robinson and Joe Greene, to name a few.

For booking information, contact 

Anita Yeh Norrie

Art Therapist

Anita Yeh Norrie (MA-Art Therapy) is passionate about creating change and improving lives through the transformative power of creating art. A life-long believer in the therapeutic and cathartic power of art, she built her career around developing programs and relationships that encourage expression, and self-realization through creativity.

While an art and design business owner, she was the vehicle of expression for her client’s vision. As an art therapist, she has created therapeutic art programs for kids, for mental health programs and non-profits, launched and operated an open art studio for a community arts center, and led hundreds of people to live a better life through their own discovery of creativity and artistic self-expression.

Anita’s current work of art is Art Power!, the non-profit she founded in 2017 where she and her team are working to change the lives of underserved kids in Cozumel, Mexico, through their therapeutic, choice-based art studio.”

When not in the art studio, you can usually find Anita contemplating her next project while exploring tasty food stands and out-of-the-way eateries, wherever she may be.

Courtney Chandler

Art Therapist

Courtney Chandler is a registered art therapist, licensed professional counselor associate, trauma-conscious yoga teacher, and founder of HeARTS for Hope Therapy in Greenville, SC. She has a decade of experience offering expressive art therapy groups in mental health facilities, schools, detention facilities, and substance use treatment centers across the country. She loves supporting adults and teens as they navigate challenges of trauma and grief, using an integrative combination of art therapy, somatic psychotherapy, and EMDR. Motivated by the belief that everyone is innately creative and art is an expression of self-love and divine connection, she uses a holistic mind-body approach in her therapeutic practice, and feels honored to hold space for hope and healing.

Samuel Monterrosa

Vocal Coach and Head of Nu-Day Academy

Samuel Monterrosa is the Director of Nu-Day Academy in San Salvador, El Salvador. He has been mentoring, coaching and advising students in music education for over 15 years. He is often asked how music helps. Samuel believes that for many children, music is opportunity. Music is the way out of a life of poverty and brokenness. Nu-Day Academy provides opportunities for youth to build their self-esteem through music.

Born and raised in San Salvador, Samuel believes all lasting achievement is rooted in developing good character and maturity through the daily exercise of personal responsibility. Samuel’s guidance at Nu-Day Academy has built an environment focusing on character skills.

Under Samuel’s leadership, Nu-Day Community Choir was formed. The choir has become a favorite to the entire country, performing on every national television station, at concerts and for the Salvadorian government. Samuel is also the baritone pillar in the youth band known throughout Latin America as One Love El Salvador.