Expressing oneself through art can be both a freeing and insightful experience, and clinicians and therapists often use art as a treatment option in their support of individuals facing a range of challenges, including mental health and substance use disorders. This fall, the Alexandria Residential Treatment Center (ARTC) partnered with Heard, a local nonprofit, to offer art workshops for individuals in recovery.
An Alexandria-based creative arts initiative, Heard partners with nonprofits and local governments to provide marginalized and at-risk adults the opportunity to be heard through art and creativity with workshops in creative writing, visual arts, poetry, dance, etiquette and improvisation. Participants may be in recovery, survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, incarcerated or transitioning from incarceration or from homelessness
ARTC, which provides short-term residential treatment for individuals who want to stop using alcohol or drugs, worked with Heard to facilitate several activities during Recovery Month in September and then started offering regularly scheduled workshops to clients later in the fall.
Art has long been recognized by mental health professionals as a way to help people express themselves and gain a better understanding of their feelings and behaviors.
“When processing different life experiences, some individuals find it difficult to express themselves verbally in individual and group therapy,” says Opioid Intake Coordinator and Senior Therapist Mara Jacobs. “Art and other forms of creative expression offer options and outlets that may provide comfort in a time of adjustment and discomfort.”
The workshop instructors, who are professional artists experienced in both their art and working with at-risk populations, create a space where participants can express themselves in a safe and trust-based environment. The workshops are themed and include elements like prompts, art instruction and exercises, feedback and small group and individual opportunities for participants to share and discuss their art.
Participant feedback has been positive, says ARTC Therapist Supervisor Andrey Fadeyev. Clients feel engaged on an individual level and appreciate the chance to use creativity to express their emotions. They also like the multiple options of artistic expressions.
“We don’t just color shapes,” says one participant.
ARTC is not the only City program that has partnered with Heard. Friends of Guest House, the Domestic Violence Program (DVP) and the Sexual Assault Center (SAC) have also offered Heard workshops to the individuals they work with.
“DVP clients really enjoyed their experience,” said Residential Coordinator Barbara Sweeney. “The art activities were so much fun and allowed them to be creative. It was a wonderful distraction from their daily concerns and they had something to keep as a reminder that they are so much more.”
“Thank you for bringing ‘Me-Art’ with the LGBTQ community to life! It's clear how much fun everyone had,” said Erika Callaway Kleiner, LGBTQ Advocacy & Training Facilitator. “It was a good balance of introspection and lightheartedness. People were able to be creative within a structure, and I loved that folks wanted to share what their art meant to them.”
The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office also partners with Heard to offer an annual writing contest that gives inmates at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center a chance to write original works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, which are recognized during a ceremony at the jail.
Samples of the poems, writings and art created by participants in the above programs can be viewed on the Heard website.
For more information about ARTC, substance use disorders and other recovery programs and services, visit alexandriava.gov/DCHS.