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Using Creative Expression To Heal Trauma

Posted by Sally Hopkins
on 05 May 2022


creative expression

Trauma doesn’t affect everyone, but it is surprisingly common. In a global survey of 24 countries, 70% of people said they had experienced a traumatic event. Witnessing death or serious injury; the unexpected death of a loved one; being mugged; being in a life-threatening car accident; and experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury, accounted for over half of all cases (1). When a past trauma leads to alcohol addiction or drug addiction and starts to impact your daily life, it’s important to get specialist help.  

Psychotherapies, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), are often used to treat trauma-based addiction. These strategies focus on talking about feelings and helping you manage problems by changing the way you think and act. However, for people who struggle to express themselves this isn’t always the best option. Sometimes, creative interventions can be more powerful in helping to process your emotions.   

At Delamere wellness retreat, we offer a wide range of evidence-based creative therapies that can help people address the traumatic experiences that are fuelling their addiction. We use art therapy, music therapy, dance movement therapy (DMT), drama therapy and creative writing to allow our guests complete freedom of expression and the space to grow beyond addiction. We believe creative therapy can have a lasting impact on individuals in our care, helping them to unlock past traumas and understand their triggers for addiction. 

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Four types of creative therapies that can heal trauma 

Creative expression is a powerful tool that can help people to increase their self-esteem, build resilience, reduce stress and feel empowered. The way the brain processes traumatic events can often mean they are stored as pictures, emotions or sensations. Being able to freely express these thoughts through art, music, dance or drama, can create a more accurate picture of what’s going on underneath the surface. Developing a deeper understanding of your thought processes is the first step to overcoming trauma and addiction. 

Art therapy for trauma  

Antony Hopkins is one famous recovering alcoholic who finds refuge in art therapy. Maintaining his sobriety for over forty years, the actor’s art studio is full of paintings that he says allows him freedom from expectation and judgement. “I do not feel afraid, I do not feel I have to prove anything,” he says.  

Art therapy has been used to treat substance use disorders since the 1950s and the role it can play in managing alcohol addiction and drug addiction is widely acknowledged. It can be used to help describe an incident that occurred during substance use, to draw or paint emotions or to relieve stress (2). At Delamere, we use art therapy to help people communicate their frustrations in an open and accepting environment. This is accompanied by one-to-one counselling and group therapy where the meaning behind drawings and paintings can be further explored.  

Music therapy for trauma 

We all listen to music to help us relax, but it can also be used as part of a residential rehab programme to help people tap into their emotions. Studies have found that drumming is particularly good for relaxation and can be helpful for recovering alcoholics or substance abusers who have suffered repeated relapses (3).  

At Delamere wellness retreat in Cheshire, we help people make deeper connections with their innermost thoughts through a variety of different music therapy techniques. Whether it’s discussing lyrics, performing their own piece of music or writing songs, our guests can explore their feelings and pinpoint any barriers to recovery from addiction.  

Dance therapy for trauma 

Dance/movement therapy (DMT) can be used in treating addiction by increasing self-awareness of feelings, thoughts and sensations. It is defined as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual.” The expressive nature of moving through music allows a person to lose their inhibitions and relieve the symptoms of recovery, as well as improving their emotional and physical well-being.  

Using freestyle movements or choreographed pieces, dance therapy helps people to relax and open up about their feelings. Dance therapy can be especially useful for people with psychological issues, helping to reduce anxiety and depression and improve quality of life (4). We use the healing power of dance to treat addiction at our retreat beside Delamere forest in conjunction with guided meditation and breathwork.  

Creative writing for trauma 

Sometimes it’s easier to write words down on paper than to speak them aloud. Alcohol addiction and drug addiction are often accompanied with feelings of anger, shame, guilt and embarrassment which don’t always lend themselves to the spoken word. We often find when people first embark on a residential rehab programme, they don’t immediately want to share their stories with a room full of strangers. Journaling is a simple technique that we use to record thoughts and encourage mindful communication.   

At Delamere wellness retreat, writing poetry and creative stories can also be built into individualised plans, to promote personal recovery, transformation and empowerment. Topics, such as trauma and abuse, adverse childhood experiences (ACE), shame and guilt, are explored using a range of interventions, including written work and creative assignments in one-to-one and group settings.    

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How can creative therapies at Delamere help with addiction? 

Our holistic therapists take a completely different approach to treating addiction at our purpose-built retreat next to Delamere forest. Our unique three-step treatment model is based on considering all aspects of an individual’s emotional, physical and psychological well-being to help them stop craving, start healing and learn to grow beyond addiction.  

We complement the use of traditional psychotherapies, such as CBT, with a wide range of expressive healing techniques, including music, art, dance and creative writing. Every residential rehab programme is tailored to the individual which means we can find the most appropriate way to help you identify past traumas, understand triggers and develop skills to overcome them.  

The process of recovery and maintaining sobriety isn’t easy, but we do want it to be as enjoyable and comfortable for you as possible. Alongside our creative interventions, you will also have the opportunity to engage in transformative, somatic healing practices that support your growth as a person now and in the future.  


References 

1. Benjet C et. al. The epidemiology of traumatic event exposure worldwide: results from the World Mental Health Survey Consortium. Psychol Med. 2016 Jan;46(2):327-43. doi: 10.1017/S0033291715001981. Epub 2015 Oct 29. PMID: 26511595; PMCID: PMC4869975.  

2. Aletraris, L., Paino, M., Edmond, M. B., Roman, P. M., & Bride, B. E. (2014). The use of art and music therapy in substance abuse treatment programs. Journal of addictions nursing, 25(4), 190–196. https://doi.org/10.1097/JAN.0000000000000048.  

3. Winkelman M. Complementary therapy for addiction: ‘Drumming Out drugs’ American Journal of Public Health. 2003;93(4):647–651.  

4. Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Dance on Health-Related Psychological Outcomes. A Meta-Analysis Update.  




About the author: Sally Hopkins

Sally is the Outreach Coordinator here at Delamere. She has a passion for recovery and a drive to ensure wider communities understand how we grow beyond addiction here at Delamere.



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