One recent afternoon at Bluff Plantation, residents gathered to create and paint clay pumpkins, a craft that would look lovely as part of anyone’s fall décor.

But the art is about more than making knickknacks. During art therapy, Bluff Plantation residents express themselves through color, design and creativity.

“The purpose is to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions about things that they may not be able to say with words initially,” explains Dr. Duke Vinson, Bluff Plantation Executive Director. “Art therapy helps turn the confusion and chaos that is in their minds into a meaningful discussion.”

Art therapy is a type of expressive group therapy, in which patients use creativity to convey emotions and experiences they may have difficulty expressing in conversation. Other forms of expressive group therapy include writing, dancing, music and acting.

Research indicates art therapy may help patients process and resolve past trauma that may have contributed to their addiction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Research also suggests art therapy can help foster self-awareness, improve self-control and self-esteem, and develop social skills.

In the recent activity, patients were asked to create a pumpkin to depict their feelings about themselves – either their “current self” or their “ideal self.” As they work on their craft, patients may talk about what they’re creating, and why. “In reality, it’s themselves that they’re discussing,” Vinson says. “It’s a way to get meaningful conversation started. By allowing them to talk about their pumpkin, it makes it easier to open up and share their thought processes.”

In addition to giving patients an alternative way to share their feelings, art therapy can promote relaxation, and instill a sense of pride and happiness in creating something beautiful, personal and worth holding on to.

“Those suffering from addiction need instant gratification and this exercise also teaches delayed satisfaction, because the artwork is taken back to get fired in kiln,” Vinson says. “Processing those feelings both when the artwork leaves and then comes back is powerful.”