RALEIGH: Art therapy can help overcome addiction - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Art therapy can help overcome addiction

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

An average of 211,000 people a year in the Triangle used an illegal drug, according to a federal report that looked a drug use between 2005 and 2010.

That was 12.5 percent of the population, lower than the 14.7 percent nationwide.

Overall, 7.4 percent were classified as has having a substance use disorder.

There are a number of ways the drug problem is being addressed in our area – and one is a creative approach that includes art therapy. Art therapy is not a licensed therapy in North Carolina, which means therapists cannot bill specifically for it. But it does have its advocates, including at Raleigh’s SouthLight Healthcare, which has been treating patients for substance abuse since 1970. Patients can generally receive art therapy treatment without a referral at a private practice.

One patient at SouthLight who has benefited from art therapy is Alexandra Causey of Cary. Causey has battled substance abuse since consuming pills as a student at Western Carolina University.

“I had a perfect childhood. So I wouldn’t be your typical, per say, drug addicted person,” she said.

But she got into drugs at Western Carolina and her problems escalated after she was in graduate school at N.C. State University.

“Taking a job at one of the local bars here really is what nailed the proverbial knell in the coffin, per say,” she said. “It just kind of facilitated my drug use.”

Like many who become addicts, Causey never imagined she was headed toward having a problem.

“You start out with the intention of not using but for leisure times, and it just grows into something so much more and it takes your life over,” she said. “Yes, I made the choice to put that pill in my mouth, but never in a million years did I think that I would become an addict.”

That led to arrests and jail time – “quite a few times.”

But now, Causey is finding a way to express herself through art and combining that with therapy as she continues to stay clean.

One of her pieces of art - which includes needles poking into an abstract piece - done as part of the therapy expresses her inner angst.

"The syringes are just showing some of the equipment, per say, that people would use," said Causey.

Such a dark piece of art may be surprising coming from someone whose own portrait would seemingly be bright and full of life.

"I consider myself a recovering addict,” Causey said. “I have an addictive personality. I'm very vivacious and I love life, but as everyone does, they have a rather dark side to them."

Causey says she was introduced to pills in college.

"It really kind of blossomed into this monster," she said.

She battled five years of addiction and is now more than three years clean.

Her road to recovery included traditional therapy where she talked with others about her feelings.

That may have been too abstract for her tastes, but art therapy brought her feelings to the foreground.

"You can express how you feel like, 'Today I'm feeling very emotional. I'm feeling very vulnerable.’ But, with art, you don't always have to say it,” she said. “It's like, the words that I can't come up with, I can physically put on a piece of work, or a painting or an easel or canvas using all different types of mediums and it really develops into this thing that it then shows how I'm feeling instead of having to verbalize it."

Causey participates in an art therapy program at SouthLight Healthcare in Raleigh.

Amelia Kelley, an art therapist at SouthLight, "It is, by far, the most concrete and visible change when you introduce someone to the concept of creating and expressing what they've been through and telling their story."

Kelley has been doing art therapy for 10 years now, and about three years at SouthLight. She currently works with about 35 people. She said it can be combined with other method, such as talk therapy.

“It's shown to increase relaxation in the brain and it also helps to calm the nervous system," Kelley said.

Kelley says she tests a client’s heart rate at the beginning and the end and sees a difference after treatment. She compares the experience to meditation.

The way art therapy works is Kelley gives the client a directive to express an emotion or experience through art, and then she may, or may not, combine the development of the art with talk therapy.

Dr. Tad Clodfelter, president and CEO of SouthLight, said less than 20 percent of people who need treatment get the care they need.

“Of course, the medical model is needed for the basic addiction care, but as we've grown and expanded our services, we're trying to meet more of the whole person," Clodfelter said.

Clodfelter said art therapy may be a way to reach some who are struggling with addiction.

Another who has found the process helpful is Stacy Fryzel. She has a background in art and she can now reflect on how it helps after participating in the program at SouthLight.

“It was doing its function. It was my therapy, but I never really thought about it like that until I came here,” she said.

Her artwork tells a story. To her, it’s “about finding the new person that you are and stripping away the old."

And that's what art has done for her.

“It's almost like a catharsis. You're getting it out. You're going through this process and forgiving yourself," she said.

Their therapist does not give an art critique, but instead a critique of what they're experiencing by creating the art.

Kelley said, "I wouldn't merely say, 'This is a really pretty piece. How did you create those colors?' We would say, 'I see that you have an image here that you created. You may have seemed stressed while doing it, what was going on for you?' or, 'Tell us what that image means to you?'"

Three years into the therapy, Causey sees the impact through what she's created.

"It just amazes me how I'm able to be really bright and sun-shiny one day and draw flowers and the next day I'm putting syringes in a painting to show that addiction is not pretty," Causey said.

"I kind of call it my progression - my drug-free progression."

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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