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If you stroll into the Arts Room at Beach House Center for Recovery on any given day, you might just find art therapist Shawna Scarpitti facilitating a group of budding artists, all clients in our programs, as they create stunning masterpieces out of the raw material of their recovery. Many of the finished products are then shared online for the viewing pleasure of our Facebook friends, as just one more way that Beach House Center for Recovery clients are giving back to their community.
Using Art Therapy in Early Recovery
Most of these therapy sessions begin with a question for reflection or a creative prompt or “directive,” in the words of Scarpitti, a certified art therapist with more than 20 years’ experience in the field. She gave some examples of the types of directives she uses with clients to help inspire their artistic process over the course of a therapy session:
- “Show what you need most in your recovery.”
- “Show what has pulled you out of your darkness.”
- “Show what’s your spiritual deficit.”
- “Show what is bringing light to your life.”
In a recent session that was fresh on her mind, Scarpitti asked clients to “show what they treasure in their recovery.” As a conversation opener, she described how “Treasure Coast,” a section of Florida’s coastline just north of Beach House Center for Recovery, got its name.
That became the touchstone for a “more serious recovery conversation” about the various “treasures” that clients can embrace in early recovery and after rehab, when they return to their home communities, including “what treasures they are bringing back to their communities,” Scarpitti said.
Here are just some of the responses that clients posted (and that help to explain the images they contributed to the community mural featured above):
- “I’m taking off the mask that this disease had me wearing”
- “I treasure the ENERGY I AM regaining in sobriety!”
- “I will take up scuba diving again!”
- “I treasure being PRESENT for my family … and all the sober celebrations ahead…”
- “I treasure the music I am hearing with whole new ears…”
- “I treasure how precious TIME is … and although I cannot take back time, I can treat every minute like it’s a precious gift, going forward.”
- “I treasure my restored health and the LIFE Beach House is giving me back!”
How Art Therapy Improves Recovery Outcomes
Research shows that art therapy can improve recovery outcomes, by:
- Overcoming denial and other internal barriers to recovery
- Providing an outlet for the healthy expression of feelings
- Reducing shame and stigma
- Motivating positive change
- Encouraging interpersonal connection within therapy groups
Scarpitti has found many of the same things to be true, just from her more anecdotal experience working with clients:
I’ve learned that we all have an innate desire to share and be connected, and art is such a safe way to do that because you don’t necessarily have to talk. For so many of my folks who are shy or quiet or still finding their authentic voice, this is the way that they are tapping back into their light, energy and connections with others. Every single session after we make the art we have a chance to share, so they know that this is the most sacred time of the session … Folks who may never share in other groups come alive in these groups. Just the other day, a guy stood up and the whole room started applauding— because they had never heard his voice until he shared about his collage.
Key Parameters That Define “Art Therapy” at Beach House Center for Recovery
Scarpitti is quick to point out a number of parameters that she believes are key to ensuring an art session is truly therapeutic for her clients:
- There is no “wrong” art.
- There is zero tolerance for judgment in the room. “This is art for expression, not perfection,” she often tells her clients.
- Clients have the freedom to choose from a wide range of materials in the creative process.
- The approach to every session is “recovery-based,” meaning “I always have a recovery idea that I present,” Scarpitti said.
- An ambience that is conducive to creating art, including relaxing music and a mindful breathing exercise at the start of the session
What to Look for in Early 2019
For now, clients are showcasing their work virtually via our Facebook exhibit. Sometime early next year, Scarpitti hopes to extend that outreach to include a local gallery exhibit that is open to the public.
We all want—no matter how broken, sad, low—to feel connected,” she said. “Art is like a super highway to help some people reconnect.”
How has art been instrumental to your recovery? Share your experience with the rest of us!