Expressive Therapy Techniques for Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Co-occurring disorders often involves the development of more than one mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, or the occurrence of a mental illness alongside substance abuse, such as alcoholism or drug addiction.

Because mental illness can compromise every aspect of an individual, such as their physical health and well-being, emotional state, spirituality, and more, treatment approaches should also by dynamic and integrative.

Addressing Every Aspect of an Individual

The treatment for co-occurring disorders must also address each aspect of an individual, including medical stabilization, nutrition, and mental health. As a person heals from the inside out, it is crucial that maladaptive behaviors be rectified and healthier coping mechanisms are implemented.

If an individual is struggling with substance abuse, drugs or alcohol may have been the means by which a person coped with intense emotions and overwhelming situations. Teaching positive strategies for coping in lieu of substance abuse will be an essential part of the recovery process.

Addressing Underlying Pyschological Trauma

Similarly, it is necessary for a person to heal and process any underlying psychological trauma that may have contributed to the development of co-occurring disorders. This will also be an integral and necessary part of treatment and recovery. One aspect of effectively processing through treatment is through the use of expressive therapy techniques.

Woman Attending Painting ClassExpressive therapy techniques are also known as expressive arts therapy or creative art therapy. This form of therapy integrates a broad spectrum of creative arts to encourage emotional and psychological healing. Expressive therapy techniques highlight four key components, including mind-body connection, expression, imagination, and active participation.

Examples of Expressive Therapy Techniques

Expressive therapy techniques may include dance therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and drama therapy, all which can be integrated expressively into individual education and counseling sessions for the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Some individuals may feel more able to open up through the facilitation of creative art therapies.

If you are interested in learning more about expressive therapy techniques, be sure to inquire with your treatment team and/or health care professional about the possibility of incorporating this into your mental health treatment.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What forms of expressive art therapy have you used as part of your therapeutic treatment and recovery? How has expressive art therapy helped you in your recovery from co-occurring disorders?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 2nd, 2015
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