The Amazing Power of Expressive Arts Therapy

May 09, 2017
6 min read

Note from publisher: this is a powerful story about alternative therapy for helping heroin addicts. As the opioid crisis has been called a "rising epidemic" in countries such as the United States, and an increasing amount of people are dying from deaths of despair, therapists and counselors are continuing to research and explore various therapy practices to fight the disease.  Art therapy has helped some people and their families make it through the addiction.

The names and certain details of this story were changed to protect the privacy of the patient.

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This is a story about a young woman with a heroin addiction.

I shall call her Claire. Claire had two small children and a husband whom she was very close with. At the time I worked with her she was around 30. She came to me for two reasons: she was highly addicted to shooting heroin and she was afraid that she was going to lose her children to social services.

Claire's mother had called the Department of Social Services on her for neglect of her children due to her addiction.

Claire sought me out because she was looking to overcome her addiction and had heard about the effectiveness of expressive arts therapy — something I specialize in — in overcoming opioid addiction.

Claire played guitar and sang beautifully. She was also talented in dance, drawing, and painting.

She lived her life on the edge for most of her life. She was a risk taker but that’s also what helped her to quit heroin. Being a risk taker means having courage and being up for a new adventure.

A risk taker is one who takes chances not always in a self defeating way, but also in a very positive way. She was very clear in her intention to quit heroin or else her children would be removed from her life.

Within 3 days of our first session she and her husband did their own detox off heroin and were able to stop using.

After they sent their children to grandma’s, they laid in bed together vomiting, sweating, and in a lot of physical and emotional pain for 3 days. It was in a dark room.

She said it was tormenting rolling back and forth on the bed moaning. After this grueling experience, her husband got on Seboxan but at times was not able to completely stay off heroin. He almost brought her back into the dis-ease a few times but she held strong.

There were many positive attributes of this client that were in her favor. She was not willing to lose her children, yet she was willing to let go of her relationship with her husband if he were to permanently go back to heroin. Keeping her children was her main motive to remove heroin from her life. She would triumph through the door at the beginning of each session with guitar in hand, a new song or a new painting (sometimes both), and a smile on her face for being proud of herself for getting through another week of sobriety.

Other times she would cry and sing and there were times she would sit still in the silence of knowing that it was going to be a long hard road. At the beginning of our sessions, Claire would immerse herself into heart felt singing. She loved to draw and paint while we talked about her week. All of her art was about her growth, mostly pictures of her, some of her family. It was not easy after 6 years of heroin to be clean. She was still trying to get the hang of what it means to be sober.

The first 2 weeks were the hardest.

She was edgy, manipulative, trying to pull the wool over her eyes and mine, and at times she had a flat affect, on those days her music also sounded flat or out of tune. At the beginning of our work together there was not a lot of emotion in her music. By the end of our work together she was growing and glowing; she built a lot of self esteem and had gotten her children back from her mom. Her songs were beautiful. They were about her transformation.

She went from feeling depressed to joyful, cynical to trusting, anxious to calm, shameful to confident and content. She was a bright star; she was a great inspiration to me.

She was a teacher to me as well as I was her confidante, creative coach, and counselor. I was amazed at her transformation, how brilliant her light shined.

We both moved out of state after our 6 months together but I will always think of her as a beautiful butterfly happily soaring through life. Claire gave me hope for those who would come to me in the future.

As an expressive arts therapist, I can also attest to my own growth and freedom from addiction.

My love for the arts has helped me to overcome challenges in my own life. I continue to study and practice fine arts, dance therapy, authentic movement, yoga, psychodrama, music and narrative therapy. I thank all of my clients for their efforts and want to remind them to never give up. Just keep on loving yourself and follow your bliss.

Are you ready to embark on a journey for greater love, joy, and peace? "Lilla" Siri Simran Kaur Khalsa LPCC, Art Therapist, Ordained Minister, CHT offers a healthy balance of warmth, compassion and support. For a consultation with her or for more information, reach Lilla directly through her RingMD profile here.

If you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but Lilla doesn't specialize in what you need, try the RingMD therapist directory. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!