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When you’re coming to terms with all the feelings, motivations and experiences that have fueled your addiction to drugs or alcohol, the right words can be hard to grasp.
Instead, grasp a paintbrush. Sop up vivid color and stretch it boldly across a canvas. The freedom you find in creativity can free your words as well.
“Art therapy is an excellent tool to help us communicate things we don’t have words for,” said Eden W. Flora, MPS, ATR, who joined Oxford Treatment Center as an art therapist this fall.
Her certification as a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) involved graduate-level training in mental health as well as studio art and art therapy, in addition to several hundred hours in supervised clinical experience.
As defined by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, the discipline uses art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork as a therapeutic and healing process.
“The concept is not simply ‘art as therapy,’” Flora said. “It’s true that it can be very therapeutic to draw or sculpt or paint. But in our groups, we’ll take it one step further and reflect on the process of what we’ve created.
At Oxford Treatment Center, experiential therapies like art therapy serve an integral role in the treatment approach. Music, equine, recreation and wilderness therapies are also part of the treatment program.
“Experiential therapy plays a vital role in our cutting-edge, comprehensive approach to addiction treatment,” said Psychiatrist Stephen Pannel, DO, Medical Director of Oxford Treatment Center. “Experiential therapy draws patients in to participate more fully in treatment. These experiences facilitate improved understanding of themselves and better insight into their underlying addiction. This process can help boost motivation for treatment and expedite recovery.”
Flora comes to Oxford Treatment Center from Boston, where she worked as a school-based art therapist. She has also led art therapy in mental health hospitals and in public and private clinics.
A native of Alabama, she received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Georgia and a master of professional studies degree in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In her art therapy practice, she has done in-depth work with clients on topics such as HIV and AIDS, mental illness, addiction, grief, Alzheimer’s, family therapy, domestic violence, learning disorders and ADHD.
“I fell in love with the power of art therapy and what it can do for people,” said Flora, adding that the works people create can suggest truths they have yet to recognize in themselves.
“It’s not like I can look at a picture someone’s painted and magically understand all the issue they’re dealing with,” she said. “But through my training, I’ve learned how to help people look deeper into their artwork. When I see certain clues in their work, it causes me not to make an assumption but rather to ask a question.”
For example, Flora said, her directive to a group may be simply for each person to make an art piece about hands. Clients might choose from among materials like watercolor paints, colored pencils or oil pastels. Some might trace their own hands, while others might draw more loosely or even produce abstract shapes.
“Making a masterpiece is not the goal,” Flora said. “Clients have the freedom to play with the materials. The process is easy for some people and difficult for others, and we talk about that along the way.
“Then when we’re finished, we talk about what hands represent to each of us. Holding onto things? Letting go of things? For some, hands can even mean abuse. But the important thing is how the process helps people develop their own insights.”
Going through that process in several sessions during their time at Oxford Treatment Center also helps equip clients for life after treatment, Flora said.
“There’s an aspect of self-empowerment to the art therapy process,” she said. “Developing a practice of looking inward — in a safe place and in a measured way — will serve them well in recovery.”