Author Archives: Jenny Stradling

About Jenny Stradling

Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. I started doing SEO and marketing in 2005. I'm a busy mom of four of my own and two step kids (and a grandbaby!). I owe my sanity to my partner in work and life, Chris Weatherall. I love sharing and engaging in business and marketing conversations, and I'm heavy into social media and blogging on these topics. I focus on quality, ethics, strategy, data and getting results. I work with a variety of brands and businesses with a special focus on addiction treatment marketing. I do this work because I care about making a difference.

How To Invite Spirituality Into Your Everyday Life

How To Invite Spirituality Into Your Everyday Life

Although it’s hard to give it one definition, essentially, spirituality means concern for the human spirit or soul instead of material things. However, spirituality as a living practice can mean so much more.

Spirituality is a journey, and like many journeys taken in life, everyone’s path can and will be different. For many, comfort and well-being are found through traditional religious law and prayer. For others, there is a greater call to a more personal experience in which there is a fusion of spiritual customs and practices from many different faiths.

Incorporating spirituality into your everyday life doesn’t have to be difficult, it is a journey of practice, dedication, and open-mindedness.

What Does Spirituality Really Mean?

Spirituality is a term that is heard a lot more lately as more people are actively striving to better their interactions with those around them. Spirituality may look different from person to person due to the fusion of different ideas, practices, and understanding. The most common ground of what spirituality means is that it is how you connect with the world and the people within it. Spirituality, when invited into your everyday life, can bring many positive benefits to your health and well-being. Daily spiritual practices, no matter how small, can bring you comfort, help create better lifestyle habits, and set positive intentions for each day.

How Do You Start a Spiritual Life?

How Do You Start a Spiritual Life?Starting a spiritual life doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, this isn’t about religion, but finding ways to take care of your soul through spiritual practices.

There are many simple spiritual aspects that you can start incorporating into your life. The easiest place to start is by understanding your own emotions, and the ways in which you interact with others. Spirituality begins with setting your intentions for the day and being mindful of what you put out in the world. When it comes to setting your intentions, there are a few major areas where mindfulness can be best practiced.

How To Practice Spiritual Mindfulness:

  • Non-Judgement- Some mistake their spiritual journey as a way to compare themselves to others, or to feel superior to the less mindful around them. This couldn’t contradict the intentions of spirituality more. One way to start your spiritual life is to be mindful of how you interact with others, even when you’re not directly interacting with that person. It is important to strive to give less criticism, compare less, and actively strive to not put others down. Non-judgement begins with understanding that every person is doing their best.
  • Kindness- Much like approaching each day without judging others, kindness is a simple act that can make a world of difference. It is easy to be kind to those you like, but true kindness is demonstrated to everyone, not just those who make it easy. In fact, it is especially important to show kindness to those who are hurtful towards you. Those who hurt you or others around you are often the people who need kindness the most. Setting a daily intention to be kinder is a great step in starting a spiritual life.
  • Compassion- It can be difficult to take a step back from your own emotions and take into consideration the emotions of others. Compassion is the active ability to put yourself in the shoes of others. Compassion means that you can see where a person might be coming from, even if it is different from how you would approach an issue. Give the benefit of the doubt, feel the pain of others, and always choose compassion over resentment.
  • Check Your Anger- A large part of embracing a more spiritual life is understanding the impact your emotions can have on yourself and others. One of the strongest emotions we experience is anger. Anger can rise at any moment. Perhaps you are stuck in traffic, or the lines are long at the grocery store. If little moments in life can make you angry, you may want to take a step back and assess why you are feeling that way. Anger can consume your life, and the most important step in releasing your anger is awareness.
  • Let it Go- Resentment can eat away at you. It is easy to get offended or upset with people. Social media can be a great platform for connections, but it can also be a breeding ground for disagreements and unkind words if not left in check. When you do find yourself upset, it can be difficult to get those emotions in check, and it often feels easier to hold a grudge. Spirituality means that you may not understand the situation you find yourself in, but you understand that in the spiritual world, there is no real difference between yourself and that individual. Take the high ground, truly forgive, and meaningfully let it go.
  • Your Words- While many situations in life may feel like they are out of your control, the control you do possess is in your words. It is easy to blurt out what is on your mind to only regret it later. Mindfulness is a huge aspect of living a spiritual life. When you are conscious of your words, you’ll gain better control and understanding of the situations around you. Word choice can impact your ability to be kind, compassionate, and non-judgmental.
  • Truth- Being conscious of your words, showing compassion, and all these other elements doesn’t mean that you can’t be genuinely you, or that you must refrain from being completely true to yourself and others. Social media and other platforms allow many to not like their most authentic life, when comparing it to others. To embrace spirituality is to embrace yourself. Be authentic and speak the truth, even when it is difficult. You should be your authentic self, regardless of what others may think or feel.
  • Generosity- One common theme that connects traditional religious practices and newer senses of spirituality is the ability to be genuinely generous. This is the ability to give unconditionally while also expecting nothing in return. Generosity doesn’t have to be physical or material. Giving your time and attention may be all it takes to change someone’s day for the better.

As you can see, starting a spiritual life doesn’t have to be complicated. It starts with your daily intentions of how you want to approach the world. Taking a moment to focus on being more kind, to show compassion, to interact without judgement, are all amazing ways to start down your spiritual path.

It begins with you.

Simple Spiritual Practices

Simple Spiritual PracticesInviting spirituality into your life can also include some simple activities anyone can try. Your mindset plays a major factor, but so do the activities you participate in throughout your day. There are numerous spiritual activities for self-care that don’t require a lot of time but can ultimately greatly benefit your day-to-day connection with your spirituality.

Some of these activities include:

  • Physical Meditation- How you physically connect to yourself and the world around you can look different for everyone. You don’t want to visit a temple or perform a complex ritual to build your spirituality. Nature in general is a great way to connect to the world and find peace in all the hustle. Sunshine is therapeutic and can create a more positive outlook within just a few minutes. You may be someone who enjoys a good walk. Walking with purpose can be a spiritual practice. It allows you time to clear your mind and reconnect with yourself. Yoga is another popular physical activity that ties together your body and mind.
  • Start Your Day with Intentions- Before you get swept up in your daily activities, it is important to take a moment for yourself. A small reflection or prayer can help focus your mind on how you want to interact with yourself and others that day. This moment can look different for everyone. This could be meditating, repeating affirmations, or listening to a guided contemplation. Taking the time in the morning allows you a chance for introspection within yourself and set your intentions for the day.
  • A Daily Commitment- It is important that you work your spiritual goals into your every day. Developing a strong spiritual connection to yourself and others will take time. It may also not feel easy at first. Dedication to your spirituality is important. You will have good days, and bad, but building your spirituality can help you to find comfort in those moments you once dreaded or felt lost. Finding meaning and meditation in your everyday life can be a great starting place. Celebrate the small things and find joy in the mundane.
  • Take the Time- Some days it may feel impossible to achieve everything you had hoped to do. This can lead to stress and all-around negative emotions that can flood into your mind and impact your interactions with others. It is important to take time for yourself throughout the day, even if it is just a few minutes at a time. Research has proven that taking breaks at the workplace can help improve your performance, and overall wellness. There is no reason why this practice can’t be applied to other areas of your life. Find moments throughout the day to take a break. Go out into the sunshine, take a deep breath, and reaffirm your earlier established intentions.
  • Connect with Others- One of the greatest pulls of traditional religious practices is the sense of community. When you find others who strive for the same things as you, you will find more positivity in your life and the way you connect with others. Connectivity is key to building and sustaining your spiritual journey. In a world where we are seemingly more connected than ever, many still feel isolation and disconnection. Meeting like-minded people who share the same values can help you along on the foundation of your spiritual journey.
  • Count Your Blessings- This seems cliché, but it works as a powerful reminder that you can overcome obstacles that may have once stopped you in your place. Spirituality is largely about overcoming the negativity in your life. Some days, this may be hard to do. Reflecting on the good people or things in your life can help lift you out of a mindset that once brought you down. Remembering the good in the midst of the bad can alter the way you handle situations when things get rough.

These simple spirituality practices can help you on your journey of self-improvement and mindfulness. Your path is unique to you, and you’ll find what works best. What matters most is the commitment to embrace change while also understanding you’re a work in progress. Don’t let any missteps or shortcomings define your journey. Sometimes the smallest steps in life can take you the furthest.

Connect With Others To Invite Spirituality In

Connect With Others To Invite Spirituality InSpirituality is all about focusing on growing positivity in a world filled with negativity. It’s about taking care of your mind, body and soul. It’s knowing that you can’t take care of yourself or others if you don’t include spirituality in your quest for health and wellness.

Spirituality is a unique journey, and it begins with you. Daily spiritual practices have been proven to have numerous positive benefits on your overall health and well-being. And, a higher level of spirituality can create stronger bonds within yourself and with others.

Spirituality is all about how you connect with the world, how you appear in the world, and how you treat those around you.

Discover How Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health

Discover How Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health: An Interview With Dr. Bob

Meet Robert “Bob” Willenbrink, Ph.D. We met Bob online through our connections in the local arts. Bob is the Executive Director for The Maryland Center for the Arts and first contacted us when he learned about our Art Corner and plans for future Art Events in the Baltimore, Maryland area.

His friends call him Dr. Bob and, since we’re all friends, we invite you to call him Dr. Bob too!

Dr. Bob is a storyteller. He loves telling stories because they allow you to share your thoughts and your feelings and they bring you joy! And, he thinks one of the best ways to bring joy to stories is to add music to them. So, he wrote a song to share his own story with you.

You might not know him yet, but after the song we think you’ll know him a little better.

Listen to Dr. Bob joyfully share his story with you through music in his video:

More About Dr. Bob and Performing Arts

As you can see (hear!), Dr. Bob has been on quite the journey! He holds his Ph.D. from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

He was the Founding Dean of the School of Fine Arts at Missouri Western State University. Most recently he was the Department Head and Producer/Director for Missouri State’s Equity Tent Theatre, before moving to Maryland and joining The Maryland Center for the Arts.

Dr. Bob began his career in the arts back at Hazard (Kentucky) Community where he founded the Hazard Summer Playhouse and served for many years as Chair and Director of Theatre at the University of Central Arkansas. During his time there he also created the Youth Theatre of Central Arkansas, was the national director of the ARC Performing Arts Institute for disabled artists, and founded ACTS, a theatre performance troupe for disabled performers.

Additionally, he served as chair of Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region VI, the Kentucky Humanities Council board, a director and first vice-president of the Jenny Wiley Theatre, and as the artistic director for the Kincaid Regional Theatre.

He has directed over 85 different live productions of various styles at a number of venues in the United States.

He received the Kennedy Center Bronze Medallion for Service and the Distinguished Creative Production Award at Morehead State University.

He’s had a pretty amazing career, right?

How the Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health

Dr.BobWe sat with Dr. Bob to learn more about his amazing life and career, hear his thoughts on how performing arts can help with mental health and how we can work together to help more people discover the healing benefits of the arts.

Here is our interview with Dr. Bob.

Enjoy!

ECHO: Thanks for doing this interview with us Dr. Bob!

Dr. Bob: You are more than welcome. I feel like it is a privilege to work with ECHO, a dedicated, caring group and it is an honor to contribute

ECHO: We loved your story. What inspired you to create and share the video?

Dr. Bob: Actually I wrote the first version of the song several years ago. I used to introduce myself to the students in the classes that I taught. Of course it has evolved as I have grown and changed. The tune is similar but the words and thoughts have changed as the audience changed and my life has changed. It remains a great way to tell my story.

ECHO: Can you tell us more about The Maryland Center for the Arts and what you do there?

Dr. Bob: The Maryland center for the Arts is an organization whose  mission is to provide a broad range of creative and collaborative experiences in quality education, presentations, and exhibits in all disciplines of the arts; and to build and operate a visual and performing arts center for the region to have greater access to quality spaces to exhibit, present, and participate in the arts.

ECHO: When you heard about the ECHO Foundation and our mission to help artists in recovery, what made you want to get involved?

Dr. Bob: I have worked with other groups and was co-founder of a group calle ACTS or Acting Creates Therapeutic Success. When I heard about ECHO, their goals and mission seemed similar to ACTS and my vision, so I thought I might be able to contribute in some way.

ECHO: In your experience, how does art help with mental health?

Dr. Bob: Absolutely. The arts are a way to open the mind and the heart. To think, to feel, to express your thoughts and ideas. It opens doors to communication with others. One of my favorite thoughts is that the arts lead us to discovering truths about ourselves.

ECHO: Do you feel performing art is therapeutic?

Dr. Bob: Without a doubt. The arts have the power to transform us. Art enables you to explore yourself and your feelings and understand the world around you. Expressing yourself through performing is a way to forget about your troubles and share with others. It speaks from the heart to the heart and helps us understand what it means to be alive and more importantly what it means to be human.

ECHO: Have you seen a change in our community through art programs?

Dr. Bob: The arts change all communities by engaging the people around us, friends. They educate and inspire all of us. It is a way for diverse communities to be inclusive and celebrate creativity and motivate each other to become better people and stronger communities.

ECHO: What’s coming up next for Maryland Center for the Arts?

Dr. Bob: We are working on several Projects including a Bluegrass Festival, TREES a camp for young people to learn about Trees and flora and turn that knowledge into a performance and art work, the Bayside dance Festival in August and then the Plein Air painting festival in September, the Step out dance party in October, and the Rejoice Choral Festival in December. So, as you can see, we are very busy at the Center.

Here is a link to the Maryland Center for the Arts website where you can view up and coming events: http://www.mdcenterforthearts.org

ECHO: How can the ECHO Foundation partner with Maryland Center for the Arts to bring more events and awareness of the arts to the community?

Dr. Bob: The ECHO Foundation can encourage people to attend events and participate as an audience member. If ECHO wants to form a performing troupe, we should partner and develop a first class experience for performer and audience. I am ready and willing.

ECHO: Is there anything else you want us to know about your story and how the arts have helped you in your own life?

Dr. Bob: I have always been interested in the arts. They are my release when I am stressed, my comfort when I am sad. Most importantly, it helps me celebrate the good things and people in my life. The arts are important to me leading a happy and productive life. They inspire and motivate me every day.

ECHO: Thanks again for sharing your story with us, Dr. Bob. We appreciate you and all you do!

Art Allows Us To Be In The Moment

As Susan Cook, Director of UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music said:

“Engaging with the arts… provides solace, awakens curiosity and allows us to be in the moment with our thoughts and feelings. It reminds us of our essential humanity and so often brings us the kinds of beauty so necessary in times of struggle.”

If you want to share your story with us or get involved in some way, please reach out! We rely on donors, volunteers and community support to keep our cause going. Every little bit helps!

Art in Recovery

Why We Support Art in Addiction Recovery

When we started the ECHO Foundation in 2014, our mission was to provide housing support for those in recovery and beyond. This meant fundraising and asking for donations in order to provide scholarships for sober housing and things like basic necessities to individuals who need financial support while in long-term recovery and while in transitional care.

As a non-profit we rely on donations, and without a major grant or big donor, our cause is solely supported by our Board of Directors. We realized with time that supporting local sober housing and providing scholarships would required a lot more financial donations. So we brainstormed other creative ways we could still support the addiction recovery and sober community, but could give back in other ways.

Art for Recovery Was Born

Art moves us and allows us to make sense of the world around us. It gives dimension and color to our lives, and can teach us in different ways. Art can be a powerful way to connect with humanity. It is one of the most expressive forms of communication.

As a tool for those struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, art can be a way to express trauma, pain and emotions in an entirely new way.

For those who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, often times their initial use started as a form of self medication. As a way to deal or cope with pain. Unfortunately, numbing thoughts and emotions might seem to work for a while, but we all know trauma requires work to face and overcome, and often times the individual needs professional care in order to identify the issue and address the cause at the root.

Self-medicating is never a means to an end. It’s always a temporary “fix” and often has dire consequences.

So, why are more people not seeking professional care for their addictions and mental health concerns?

There are many reasons why individuals don’t seek help, some are:

  • Stigma – with so many built in stereotypes and misconceptions around mental health issues, the stigmas are deeply rooted in our society and culture. Event the media depicts substance abuse in a way that causes those that struggle with it to feel shame and embarrassment, making it hard to speak up and ask for help!
  • Financial – we all know that healthcare in America is expensive. Even those that can afford a decent health insurance plan find themselves unable to afford expensive out-of-pocket costs, especially when it comes to mental health care which often times isn’t even covered by the provider. A private addiction treatment facility can charge $20-50K per month. No wonder so many think they simply can’t afford care!
  • Accessibility – in metropolitan areas you might find several treatment centers offering varying levels of care right in your own zip code. However, for many in more rural areas, the right care just isn’t available to them in their own town. Someone who needs outpatient care might find themselves driving an hour for a one our class or meeting, hardly practical for someone who also needs to take care of life outside of care.
  • Misinformation – beyond the misconceptions that still create so much stigma today, a lot of misinformation exists in outdated texts and old websites and blogs that cared more about using marketing messaging to get more leads than actually educate their users with legitimate information and resources. It’s no surprise people are confused about substance use disorder and how and when to get care when sleezy marketers have controlled the narrative for so long.
  • Lack of support – let’s be honest, deciding to enter care is HARD. It’s a big commitment both financially and mentally. I can’t even imagine someone in active addiction being able to lift themselves out of the fog long enough to make the choice to go to rehab without some sort of support. Sure, the individual has to want to go to care, but they also need family, friends, a counselor – someone to care about them, listen to their concerns and support them on their journey. Not everyone has that.

Art and Mental Health

As you can see, in today’s society, there is a heightened risk of mental health decay due to the onslaught of negative social impressions, spread by entertainment media and viral visibility social platforms create. For those who want to remove drug and alcohol dependency from their lives will find that, even after treatment, maintaining their mental health and avoiding triggers is a challenging, ongoing task.

Never has it been more important to spread awareness about the importance of mental health and advocate for more tools to not only help those in recovery, but their families, loved ones and the communities they live in.

Art is a way to way to reconnect with old passions or even discover new talents we didn’t even know we had. And, perhaps even more importantly, art therapy helps the individual find new ways to express their emotions and heal from their past.

How amazing is that?

Addiction Can Happen to Anyone

Many people who have been caught up in drug or alcohol abuse have self-medicated to forget their pain, or, at the very least, numb its impact. Others’ addiction may have been circumstantial. For example, athletes after injury or anyone who had undergone surgery were prescribed opioids to relieve pain. We now know that opioid addiction can occur in as little as five days of use. No matter how a person develops a substance use disorder, there are similar results embedded in the process affecting each victim of the disease.

People

Emotional Response and Rescue

Over time and ongoing toxicity from drug and alcohol intake, emotional balance declines. During active addiction, as well as during the withdrawal process, the body and the brain are desperately trying to reset to homeostasis. But without a proper medical detox, clinical and therapeutic care, true recovery can be a losing battle.

People under the influence of a chemical on a consistent basis will enact inappropriate responses to their environment and social situations. Mood swings, erratic behaviors, and impulsivity are common. Anxiety, depression, and reactive moments are common and may even be the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder.

All of the above are repercussions from the misappropriation of the human “fight or flight” response that drug and alcohol addiction hijacks. As such, an individual can easily overreact to an everyday situation, compounding their problem and making it near impossible for social interaction and the ability to forge healthy relationships.

Exercising creative expression through art is a non-invasive way to put emotions back into place and begin to heal.

Art in Recovery - Painting

Self-Expression in Art Eases the Effects of Trauma

If you were to take a cross-section of people in addiction treatment and pinpoint the exact root cause for their affliction, you’d find that trauma is often the underling issue that lead to the substance abuse in the first place.

Painting

Through therapeutic treatments, clients learn how to access their emotions and get more comfortable with them. From there, understanding the why about emotional responses helps to better moderate and manage them when they arise. It’s often a painful and challenging process that fuels negativity and the resurgence of agonizing memories.

By introducing art therapies, often times the individual can take a mental break from the racing and irrational thoughts that present each day and put their emotions into a form that doesn’t always require words. Through a paint brush, ink pen, charcoal pencil or the gentle maneuvering of clay, art becomes the expression of emotions that words cannot explain. In essence, art in process does the talking without speaking a word.

The Inner Voice Needs a Healthy Outlet

People, at our core, are made of energy. Some of us naturally have more energy than others. Endurance athletes are a prime example; stage performers carry similar characteristics. After addiction has taken hold of a person, the connection between owning personal emotions and then communicating them to others is lost. Without a way to deal with emotions, mental health is always in flux and at the mercy of what a person can control or not.

Considering that life is full of the unexpected, having an outlet for emotional expression and an overabundance of energy is vital to overall wellness and avoiding potential triggers for drug relapse.

Art therapy provides a path to connecting with ones inner voice and can be a tool for those who need something to turn or help sustain their sobriety, long after professional treatment has ended.

Discovering Hidden Talents Can Heal

Carrie shares her personal story about growing up with an alcoholic mother:

“I never thought of my mother as an artist. In fact, it was the family on my father’s side that always comprised the creative individuals of my name’s sake. Until I visited my mom while she was doing a 30-day rehab stint some years ago and she shared her paintings with me. Then I realized there was a whole different side of her that I never knew. But the discovery went much deeper than that. She was saying things through her art, telling us stories we had never heard before about her life. It was touching, powerful and eye opening.”

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” – Stephen Sondheim, American composer

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“Her paintings were simple but complex.” Carrie continues, “Looking back on my mother’s art in her own recovery, I believe it was truly representative of who she was as a person and why she was misunderstood. Her relationship with my father was based on her enabling his behaviors, much to the detriment of her self-esteem, personal worth, and the blossoming of any aspirations she may have held.

She was the support network for everyone else. Creativity was left to my father and his work. Mom was never given the opportunity to be heard through artistic self-expression. Until time in addiction rehab for a co-occurring disorder opened the door for her. Seeing her visual impressions on canvass in watercolors that blended haphazardly from left to right, it was bittersweet. I was happy to see her, the artist I never knew existed, yet sad that so much time had lapsed in her life before it came to fruition.”

Art Therapy Encourages Sharing and Expression

Professional Art Therapy for addiction recovery is normally done in a group setting where clients can learn to focus on their work while in the presence of others.

Are Therapy is not limited to painting and drawing, however, there are many forms of art. Some other types of art used therapy are:

  • Dance
  • Music
  • Theater
  • Sculpture
  • Collaging
  • Coloring
  • Story writing
  • Photography

Art therapy is more than an emotional outlet; it’s a manifestation of a person’s inner being. There’s beauty in that, and often inspires a person to delve further into their artistry, while helping others step outside of the fear of judgment to begin exploring art therapy for themselves.

sculpting

Why Addiction Treatment Should Include Art

There is science behind the inclusion of art during addiction treatment. An article in Psychology Today points to the following benefits of art therapy that align with human needs during the recovery process:

  • Self-expression and learning how to just let life flow
  • No judgment or shame
  • Reconnecting with self, regulating emotions
  • Providing purpose while coping with loss
  • Helps with socialization and promotes playfulness
  • Empowers other abilities
  • Allows personal healing and shared healing

How Art Impacts Community

Beyond the obvious benefits of art for individuals in recovery, it’s obvious all of us could use more art in our lives. Not only could we all benefit from self expression and the therapeutic benefits that come from practicing art, using art as a platform to tell a story is a powerful way to connect with others in the community. Although the conversation around addiction has opened up in recent years, there are still so many who are hiding in the shadows, living with guilt, shame and all of the other stigmas that surround their disease.

By sharing their stories. By giving them a platform. By offering the public a look into the reality of mental health and substance use disorders WE can make a difference.

Through art we can reach people who may have not taken the time to understand the growing issue we have in America around mental health. We can take back the narrative and provide a new way for the public to see how addiction impacts us all.

The ECHO Foundation Supports Artists in Recovery

As ECHO continues our mission to support artists in recovery, we’re working as an organization to further our reach so we can help more people and give back in bigger ways.

In 2019 we started what we thought would be our first ANNUAL ECHO Recovery Art Show and Open Mic Night. And, thanks to ECHO Board Member, Jennifer Nilsson, we did have our first ever ECHO Recovery Art Show!

Art Show

However, as 2020 took us into isolation and all in-person meetings and events were cancelled, so were our plans to host our second annul show.

Now that things are starting to open back up again we’re hopeful that we can resume our art for recovery show and continue to serve the community through future art focused shows and events.

But, just like so many others, we were forced to look for new ways to connect with those we are here to serve. So, we decided to dive deeper into our online educational tools and resources and reach out to our contacts to ask others to join us in our efforts. In addition to our art for recovery blog posts and stories from artists,  we’re working on partnering with artists, teachers and art therapists to create and share art classes online!

We’d love it if you join us in our efforts to support individuals in recovery and help end the stigma around mental health so those that need help can get it. Donate to our cause, Volunteer, or Become a Corporate Sponsor if you want to help us make a difference!

 Together we can make an impact and change the way people see and treat mental health issues.


Editors note: We originally published this article on Aug 8, 2019 and decided to republish the post with a new date of June 25, 2021 after editing and updating the content.

Meditative Painting to Heal Your Life

Meditation has become more and more popular over the years. People have started to take a closer look at themselves and how to better themselves mentally as our world progresses.

Unfortunately, as we advance in technology and our information systems get better, we come to know more about this sometimes crazy and unfair world we live in. It’s important then that we find ways to calm our minds and fight against depression, anxiety, and other strong emotions.

So, how do you stay positive?

If you want to create an atmosphere of calm in yourself it’s important that you look within. Meditation and finding harmony are fantastic ways of promoting healthy mental activity in your day-to-day life.

Heal Your Life With Creative Art-Making

There are many different types of meditation. Most people have probably heard of trance and focus meditations — but creative art-making meditation has recently become increasingly popular. Meditative art-making is a variation of the normal meditative process. Unlike standard meditation that focuses on the self-release of your negative emotions through guidance or conscious submergence into your psyche, meditative art-making emphasizes harmony using art and your creativity as a medium. It’s a form of expression that can be used to push your hard emotions out onto paper so you can better envision them.

Creativity has long been seen as a type of healing act. Therapists and health professionals have been studying and using art as a medium for treating psychological disorders for years. Painting, drawing, or any other type of art where your creativity can shine makes it significantly easier to express yourself. As many of us are constantly under pressure to be or act a certain way, it becomes easier to use creativity in art as a medium for communicating with our emotions. Self-reflection is not an easy or comfortable process as we have many things in our life that we may rather forget about than dwell on. But, internalizing these feelings can stress us and cause long-term effects on our overall health.

The Process of Meditative Art-Making

The Process of Meditative Art-MakingMaterials you will need before you begin:

  • A canvas of some kind
  • Drawing or Painting tool
  • A quiet place to relax, with adequate lighting

If you are painting, you should also prepare a place to clean your brushes with water and have some watercolors, acrylics or other paints.

After you have your materials on hand, envision what your stressors are and consciously submerge yourself in them. It’s important that you know why you need to get rid of these thoughts and put them into tangible things. This step is crucial — because when you make your stressors into tangible objects, it becomes easier to release them. Once you have an image in your mind, paint or draw, focusing on the colors and object that you envision your stressors to be in. As you are painting, you should focus on releasing your stress, creating harmony as you paint, and letting go of all your stressors.

The bottom line is getting your negative thoughts onto paper and out of your head. We internalize so much emotional baggage that we tend to forget that we need to let go. The human mind was not structured to handle copious amounts of stress. As a result, when our stress levels get high, our bodies — both physically and mentally — start to go haywire. This is where meditation comes in to help you express yourself in creative environments. Holistic healing with art meditation gives you the power to harness your creativity into a positive source of encouragement for you and those around you.

Other Types of Creative Meditation

Expressive Movement for Addiction RecoveryThere also are other forms of creative meditation besides painting and drawing. Since creative meditation centers around using a medium that you can express your creativity through — anything that can be considered a creative action can be done in place of painting.

Some common examples of other creative meditation include:

  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Expressive movement
  • Music
  • Writing

All of these forms of expressing creativity can be used to meditate. No matter which medium you choose, the idea of using creativity to express your subconscious issues remains.

“To find the best ideas you have to go deep within yourself. To do this I practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day, every day, and by doing so I believe it keeps the ideas coming.” — Oliva Locher, photographer

Benefits of Meditation

There are many, many benefits to meditation. Self-reflection in a controlled environment lets you target key things that you don’t like and work them out yourself. It can be a permanent solution to dozens of difficult emotional states that people have to deal with every day. Depression that is caused by negative thoughts and anxiety is one of the more popular emotional stressors that influences people to seek out solutions. Thankfully, meditation has been shown to be effective in varying degrees at helping people work out their mental dilemmas. The following are the most common benefits:

  1. Reduces stress. Stress is one of the most common reasons for people to meditate. Having high stress in your life puts you at higher risk of health complications as hormones and other parts of your body are negatively impacted. Meditation can help reduce the high levels of cortisol that stress produces which promotes healthy sleeping, lessens depression, decreases blood pressure, and reduces inflammatory issues.
  2. Controls anxiety. Anxiety and stress go hand-in-hand. High levels of anxiety promote stress and increase your body’s susceptibility to hormonal imbalances. Relieving your anxiety through meditation by creating a calming environment can promote healthier levels of stress.
  3. Promotes emotional health. Positive reinforcement of any kind can lead to improved self-image. We are constantly surrounded by a world that lets us down, time after time. Positive reinforcement, even if it is coming from ourselves, is important in maintaining a healthy emotional state.
  4. Enhances self-awareness. Self-reflection allows you to develop a more conscious awareness about who you are as a person. Meditation lets you target things that bother you and that you want to get rid of, making it a highly effective method of self-reflection.

Furthermore, higher-order brain functions have been shown to improve in practitioners of meditation while low-order functions decrease — whether you have a mental disorder or not. These “high-order functions” are what dictate your cognitive process. Cognition is composed of intellectual function, orientation, attention, judgment, planning, memory, speech and language, complex perception, and decision-making. It does this by putting pressure on your brain’s cognitive function, flexing it like a muscle while you are decompressing and slowly getting rid of thoughts that would normally damage it.

Healing Complex Disorders Through Creative Meditation

Because of the benefits of meditation, complex disorders relating to severe depression and anxiety can be alleviated.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of those complex emotional disorders that has been shown to be alleviated through meditation. Post-traumatic stress happens when we witness, experience, or are involved in a shocking event. During the event, fear triggers an extreme hormonal response in the form of cortisol and adrenaline to forcibly stabilize itself. Once the event is over, our nervous system resets before initiating the recovery process — which can cause you to have a severe emotional or physical reaction if your adrenaline levels were very high. However, there are cases in which our nervous system does not reset, becoming a chronic condition that manifests symptoms of traumatic stress.

These prolonged symptoms are precisely what PTSD is. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, but for those who do, it can plague them for years — even the rest of their lives. Although PTSD is not pathological and can slowly go away on its own, as we develop resistance to the stress, some people may have extreme reactions that need treatment.

The Symptoms of PTSD

The Symptoms of PTSD

Although the cause of trauma changes between each and every person, people with PTSD experience three primary symptoms:

  • Repeating or reimagining the experience. Intrusive memories, dreams, or imagining the traumatic event over and over again, which prolongs the stress.
  • Individuals usually want to avoid anything that they think would make them remember the event. It could be a place, object, person, or anything else that they fear could make them remember.
  • Tension, anger, irritability, startling easily, or difficulties coping with life events.

Persistent traumas impact the structure and function of the brain over long periods of time. Humans who experience severe traumatic stress often see parts of their brains reduce in function, specifically, in areas that are easily susceptible to environmental threats, such as the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and left amygdala. Reduced brain function in these areas can cause severe damage to learning ability, emotional processing, nerves, and cognitive function.

Creative Meditation in PTSD Patients

Historically, cognitive psychotherapy — with or without medication — was the go-to treatment for PTSD. But social stigma, cost, guilt, shame, or inability prevents many people suffering from severe stress from seeking the help they need. Mindfulness-based interventions have become an alternative treatment for those looking for help. It’s important to note that not all mindfulness exercises are good for post-traumatic stress relief. Since some forms of meditation rely on looking at the problem again, some people might dig up more severe PTSD symptoms if they do not choose properly.

Art-based or creative-based meditation has a lower impact on the mind than most traditional meditation programs. Through the use of a physical medium, much of the imagination can be channeled into the act of creating art. The person is then distracted enough not to focus on their stress while letting go. Although this can be challenging, repeated use of creative meditations can help mediate serious symptoms from PTSD and other complicated disorders.

Meditation has been shown to reverse the damage that PTSD and severe trauma cases have in their brain. Although it may not guarantee freedom from whatever it is someone is having these traumatic experiences from, it can let them overcome it slowly, in a healthy way.

Can You Meditate Through Art?

Can You Meditate Through Art?The short answer is yes, you can meditate through art.

The process is simple and you can do it so long as your chosen creative medium is at hand. Many people choose to use creativity to fuel their emotions. Using it as a source means you can be much more direct in your approach to meditation. It allows you to think freely while feeling what is truly causing your pain. Art meditation focuses on acceptance and fostering healthy thinking without putting judgment onto yourself.

Here at ECHO we want to connect anyone who is interested in art for recovery by sharing educational information, tools and as many free resources as possible. Visit our Art Corner to see how you can get involved.

Artist Silvia Logi

Get Inspired To Create With Featured Artist Silvia Logi

Meet Silvia Logi. Silvia is self-taught artist from Florence, Italy.

Artist Silvia LogiWe discovered Silvia on Instagram as we were searching for artists to connect with. Her art caught our eye as it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. We had to learn more! So, we reached out and Silvia said she was happy to share her story with us and support our mission.

In her words:

“Helping people recover through art is the best use I can think of. Art is the best medicine that humans have!!”

Sbocciare (To Blossom)

Watch this inspirational video that a crew of young film directors from Tennessee made about Silvia in 2013. They traveled all the way from Nashville to Florence, Italy to meet her in her home and studio to tell her story… which you’ll discover is the story of a self-taught artist that invented her own language, her own process and followed her heart to discover a unique way to express herself through art.

Artist Silvia Logi’s Bio and Story

Artist Silvia LogiI am an Italian artist, born and still living and working in beautiful Firenze (Florence, Italy).

My artistic path began after a very inspiring trip to Barcelona. Immediately after that trip I put together my first technique and started to create in a constant flow. The original idea was to create using natural elements mixed with precious (for me!) recycled objects. I have always remained faithful to this first creative intuition despite the great evolution in technique and materials that has happened over these 14 years of activity.

I love the work I have created because it allows me great freedom of expression by combining the beauty of the natural element with a sense of responsibility for the environment. It helps me to find a balance and harmony within myself too, which I see then reflected in my works as well.

Thanks to social networks and Internet, I made my work known around the world in a few years with the great joy of having sold to places I never imagined. For several years I have also had many requests to teach my various mosaic and assemblage techniques and finally back in September 2018 I moved to a large studio where I can also constantly carry out the activity of workshops for adults and children together with my normal production of art pieces.

Today, I sell directly in my studio, in Art Galleries and online through my website and social page

It’s Never To Late To Start

What I really want to prove to people is that art can start at any time in live. I am proof, I think! I started at age 35 as a small-town woman with a husband and two kids. Today I am still all of these things, but I am also an artist.

Art is waiting for you, for you all, at any stage of life. I really think it’s never too late to begin… and I hope you will.

 Art Journaling Ideas and Themes for Beginners

Art Journaling Ideas and Themes for Beginners 

As a writer and an artist myself, I’ve always loved journaling. When I was a kid in the ’80s, I remember spending hours in my room drawing, cutting out pictures from magazines for creative projects, and writing in my journal. As an adult, I still love spending time creating things with my hands. Sometimes I paint or sketch a little. However, sometimes I find myself wanting to express myself creatively but feel stuck. It’s almost like having a specific project goal, like an assignment from a teacher in school, makes getting started easier. So, when I ran across the idea of art journaling, I got excited. Even though there aren’t any rules, there is a purpose, and you can create a personal goal for your work. I find that intriguing as an artist.

Although I am just now discovering this idea, I have curated some themes that might help you (and me!) get started on art journaling. Pick one, try it out and come share your thoughts with me in the comments section or on our social media.

What Is Art Journaling?

Art journaling is a term that encompasses the various artistic ways a person might journal, whether to paint, draw, write, document memories, or simply stay creative. The number one rule of art journaling is… there are no rules! That’s right, even though art journaling is a great way to structure and encourage yourself to engage in artistic time, the journaling itself is a free-flow experience. Art journals can contain as few or as many words as you feel led to include. Incorporate pictures and drawings with words, lyrics, or journal entries, or keep just to sketches and doodles. Between the bindings of your blank journal, the world is your artistic oyster!

Our Recommendations:

Great for wet and dry media, including watercolor and acrylic paints, pen, marker and other inks. At 9″x12″ this is a larger sized notebook, so, if you prefer a smaller version, they also sell a 5.4″x8″ version that has 28 sheets, which is 4 more than the 9″x12″ notebook.

At only $9.31 for the smaller version and $14.84 for the larger book, you can’t go wrong with either one as a starter journal!

Incorporating Mixed Media

Blank pages, pens, pencils, brushes, and markers — these are likely the materials that spring to mind when brainstorming for an art journal, but you’re not limited to these only. Consider including mixed media, such as pressed flowers, hodge-podge mementos (travel or concert tickets, petals from a romantic bouquet, a drawing or note from a child), four-leaf clovers from the yard, or cut-outs from books and magazines that catch your eye. This hearkens a bit to scrapbooking or storyboarding, but the mixed media approach can be as freeing as it is fun.

Theme Ideas

If you are looking for specific inspiration on how to fill empty journals, here are a few great ideas I’ve come across. Let’s get inspired together!

Botanicals

Botanicals Art Journaling Theme

Flowers, plants, and gardening are great sources for a themed art journal. Whether your journaling nook overlooks an actual garden or a concrete jungle, inspiration is all around for those with a green thumb. You could even doodle your beloved indoor plants within a room scene.

Botanical prints are increasingly popular as home décor. They look so classic and feminine and can adorn any bathroom or kitchen with a splash of brightness. Create your own botanical prints in an art journal by combining sketches or watercolors of flowers and plants with freehand calligraphy of the formal botanical names.

Even seed packets and gardening magazines are great fodder for floral inspiration!

Our Recommendation:

Dual Tip Brush Pens Art Markers

 

An easy way to begin journaling is with markers. This pack contains 30 vibrant colors with 1-2mm flexible fiber brush tips on one side and and 1mm fine tips on the other side of the marker, allowing you to create medium or bold strokes. Also, a great product for someone looking to try art journaling without a significant investment upfront as they are priced at $6.99 on Amazon.

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Books

Are you a bookworm? It may seem a little meta to fill a book with, well, books, but literature could make an amazing art journaling theme! Combine doodles of books and bookshelves or even the books you own. If you are more advanced at drawing, sketch out your favorite characters or illustrate brush-script quotes on the page. Vintage books are especially inspiring aesthetically. You could even use the mixed-media approach to incorporate quotes, fonts, or pictures.

Architecture

Buildings are the new stairs when it comes to a satisfying doodle session. Play with depth and perspective drawing skyscrapers with hundreds of windows. Sketch antiquated row houses — think Charleston, Boston, New Orleans, or even the 18th-century homes of London’s Notting Hill. This style of drawing is great for beginners, as it relies on straight lines. It even looks great in ink pen or dark pencil. If you’re a lover of unique homes and buildings, this could be a great theme to start your art journaling journey.

Dreams

Art Journaling Theme - Dreams

Do you dream often? Are you one of the lucky few adults who can frequently remember dreams upon waking? If so, you may have considered keeping a dream journal. Why not turn it into an art journal?

For example, you could jot down a note or two about what your dream entailed and then sketch out what’s in your mind’s eye or how it made you feel. This would be a great way to process your thoughts and discover new patterns in your dreams.

Loved Ones

A simple-but-beautiful idea is to dedicate an art journal to a loved one. This could take many shapes and forms. It might be sketches, more writing-heavy, or a combination of both, along with other elements. One might dedicate a journaling project to their child, writing down memories of those fleeting young years along with pictures and doodles. Conversely, a journal could center around a love interest, a parent or grandparent, or could even be a way to remember and cope with the loss of a loved one.

Recipes

Calling all foodies! Food is a work of art, too, right? Though it may not be the most obvious inspiration for an art journal, cooking and recipes may be ideal for the right individual. For instance, you could craftily write out a recipe (particularly something sentimental) and sketch what the dish looks like. You could paste in recipe cards in a loved one’s writing and doodle memories of being in the kitchen! If food lights your fire, enjoy making it your own!

Positive Affirmations

Art Journaling Theme - Positive Affirmations

Most of us know that positive affirmations are a great way to start or end the day. Depending on one’s journey with self-esteem, this can be challenging or even feel a bit awkward. Using art to channel these emotions is a great and rewarding tool.

How this might look in a journal is a personal choice — whether it is more visual or include more writing. Take your journey with self-care and loving yourself through artistic expression!

Mandalas

In various Eastern cultures and religions, mandalas have deep meaning. They are also commonly used in a secular way as part of therapy programs, and they are commonly found in coloring books for adults. Why not create your own? The geometric shapes and patterns within mandalas are thought to be relaxing and centering and to represent organization, wholeness, and the infinite nature of the world around us. Even if life feels chaotic, drawing, painting, or coloring mandalas may help to focus your mind. It may even be a great piece of a morning yoga ritual — adding to your mandala journal. Another great thing about mandalas is that they can be perfectly symmetrical with the help of stencils or more fluid with a freehand approach. Do what feels right!

Our Recommendation:

If you’re looking for something a little nicer, I personally LOVE Prismacolor colored pencils. They are softer than regular colored pencils and offer a creamy texture, almost like marker combined with crayon. This beautiful set has 132 colors, but it will cost you around $75.00. They do have a 36, 48, 72 and even 150 count pack, but it looks like right now all but the 132-count and 48-count are sold out.
You can snag the 48-count for just under $40 on Amazon:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

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Travel

A large portion of creative types love, or aspire to, travel. It may seem like an obvious choice, but traveling is a great source of artistic revelations. A travel-themed art journal could take a few different forms. It could be based around a single extended trip. Are you finally spending that month in Paris? Journal every day you’re there, jotting down anecdotes and sketch your surroundings. If actual travel is not on the agenda, you could document the various places you hope to visit or have visited through the years. This is another opportunity for creating a lovely keepsake with physical items, like tickets, hotel, and restaurant matchbooks, or foreign currency.

Furry Friends

You could create an entire journal of great memories with or sketches of the furry members of your family, both past and present. Not only are animals fun to illustrate, but it is an entertaining and creative endeavor to dream up artistic scenes involving your pets! Have fun with it.

Mental Health

Many artists find creating pieces about their mental health issues is a great way to express their feelings. An art journal focused on your mental health could be a great way to share your emotions without words, process complex feelings and find even find relief.

Art can help boost confidence, make us feel more engaged and resilient. In addition to these benefits, studies show engaging in an artistic activity also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.

Our Recommendations:

Artistro Watercolor Paint Set

 

There are a LOT of paint set options on Amazon, but this set is one of our favorites. It comes with 48 colors including 4 fluorescent and 4 metallic colors in a portable teal box, which is great if you want to take your art on the road! The kit also includes 10 sheets of 300g watercolor paper, their exclusive water brush pen, sponge, drawing pencil, brush, eraser and swatch sheet. A great value for $26.99.

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Apple Barrel Matte Finish Acrylic Craft Paint Set

 

Another great art supply product for the price, these Apple Barrel acrylic paints are great for getting started with painting. Acrylics are forgiving as they’re easy to water down and paint over if you make a mistake. This box comes with 18 assorted colors for less than $18.50 and the versatile colors are everything you need to create your new masterpiece!

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Artist Paint Brush Set with Storage Case

 

This 40 piece easy grip paintbrush set might be overkill for some, but if you want to try different types of paint and styles of painting, this is a versatile choice. The set includes 17 Nylon Bristle, 12 Pony Bristle, and 11 Hog Bristle brushes for you to choose from. The brushes and carrying case will set you back about $20, but we think it’s worth it for the quality and amount of brushes.

SHOP NOW

So Many Great Ideas for Art Journaling!

Okay, now that you have a few ideas, let’s do this thing!

Grab yourself a sketchbook or journal, some paints, brushes, pretty paper, magazines, pictures, stickers, markers, scissors, glue, stamps and any other art supplies that inspire you to create.

Next, pick a theme and set an intention for your new art journal! And, be sure to tag ECHO Recovery on Instagram when you share photos of your creative pieces.

February Creative Challenge

Join ECHO’s February Creative Challenge

Challenges can be good. You get to learn something new, try out a new aspect of your hobby or craft, and the sense of accomplishment you feel after is second to none. When I develop marketing campaigns for ECHO (and my clients), I participate in a lot of challenges. It’s great for keeping my mind active, especially when it comes to creativity. Creativity is a gift, but like any tool, it needs exercise — a really good challenge can give you just that.

Whether you’re a creative type, a professional artist or wanna-be photographer, this daily photo challenge was made for you. Each daily challenge pushes you to try new ideas and techniques that you might not consider doing otherwise.

We’ve created this February Creative Challenge to help boost your creativity and skills. All of the prompts for this month are specific yet general, allowing you to add your own twist. We hope you enjoy this quest to stretch your skills – it’s yours to interpret in the way that most interests you.

If you want to take part, join us on the ECHO Recovery Instagram and use the tag #ECHOChallenge to be featured on our page. Now have fun!

ECHO’s February Creative Challenge

ECHO Creative Challenge

Day 1: Nature

The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.

Day 2: Hopeful

Feeling or inspiring optimism about a future event.

Day 3: Work

An activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something

Day 4: Bright

Giving out or reflecting a lot of light; shining.

Day 5: Color

The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way the object reflects or emits light.

Day 6: Magic

The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

Day 7: My Drink

A liquid safe for swallowing.

Day 8: Word

A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

Day 9: Art

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Day 10: Above Me

In or to a higher place than.

Day 11: Kindness

The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Day 12: Flashback Friday 

A social media phenomenon in which older pictures (such as childhood photos) are posted on Friday with the phrase (often abbreviated “FBF”) as an accompanying hashtag or caption.

Day 13: Small

Having comparatively little size or slight dimensions.

Day 14: Love

An intense feeling of deep affection.

Day 15: Books

A set of written sheets of skin or paper or tablets of wood or ivory.

Day 16: Light

Something that makes things visible or affords illumination.

Day 17: Silly

Having or showing a lack of common sense or judgment; absurd and foolish.

Day 18: Under

In or into a position below or beneath something

Day 19: Water

A colorless, transparent, odorless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain and is the basis of the fluids of living organisms.

Day 20: Story 

An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Day 21: Mood

A temporary state of mind or feeling.

Day 22: Together

With or in proximity to another person or people.

Day 23: Dreamy

Pleasantly abstracted from immediate reality.

Day 24: Food

Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.

Day 25: Movement

An act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed.

Day 26: Fri-yay! 

A combination of Friday and YAY!, typically to indicate excitement about said Friday.

Day 27: Night 

The time of darkness between one day and the next.

Day 28: Creative

Relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

A Month of Creativity 

February Creative Challenge Quote

This creative challenge is a great way to push yourself to think of the world just a little differently. Try to expand the boundaries of your comfort zone. The more time you invest in telling a story, the better it is. The best artists produce work that makes people stop and think.

When does the challenge start?

Feel free to start this challenge at any time. This is something you can start today and even repeat each month if you would like.

What happens if I can’t finish the full February photo challenge?

Nothing, don’t worry! Even if you only do only a few days you are still a few days closer to beautiful photos and creative inspiration than you were before you started.

What hashtag should I use for the 30 day photo challenge?

So glad you are excited to join us! If posting on Instagram we encourage you to follow our page @echorecovery and use the hashtag #ECHOChallenge to play along!

We can’t wait to see your photos!

Women Face Additional Challenges in Substance Abuse Treatment

Women Face Additional Challenges in Substance Abuse Treatment

Most Americans know that addiction is a personal struggle, but many believe men and women generally experience similar paths when they decide to pursue substance abuse treatment. While many men and women experience significant hardship through addiction and recovery, they tend to face vastly different scenarios due to the social stigma surrounding addiction and the fundamental biological differences between men and women. Unfortunately, women tend to face a more difficult road to recovery.

Women Face Significant Hurdles in Addiction Recovery

Women Face Significant Hurdles in Addiction Recovery

Addiction can have unpredictable effects on anyone’s life, and it almost always influences more than just one life with every case. Both men and women can develop addictions to many different substances. In the early days of professional substance abuse treatment, there were no research areas dedicated to studying the differences between men and women.

Modern science has evolved enough that now researchers know it is crucial to study the effects of addiction on every possible subset of people. Studying the differences of addiction, withdrawal, and recovery between the two sexes can illuminate much about addiction as a whole. In fact, substance abuse treatment has evolved tremendously thanks to this shift in focus. Close examination of the physical, emotional, psychological, and societal challenges facing women experiencing substance abuse has revealed that the road to recovery may be more difficult for many women due to several factors.

Recovery Challenges from Biology

When it comes to addiction, men and women not only tend to experience drug use and abuse differently but also display different habits when it comes to how they use drugs. For example, women tend to consume smaller doses but generally feel the effects of most illicit drugs more intensely. Substance abuse also tends to develop into addiction more rapidly in women than men due to physiological reasons.

Men and women process drugs differently on a physical level, and women tend to experience the long-term or permanent consequences of addiction more frequently and more rapidly than men. For example, alcoholism has a high chance of causing permanent damage to the liver. Between a man and a woman with similar alcohol abuse habits, the woman is far more likely to develop permanent liver damage.

Another reason that alcohol and other drugs affect men and women differently is the sex hormones present in the human body. Men and women have different hormonal levels, and the sex hormones of women may make them feel the effects of some drugs much more acutely than men. Due to the cardiovascular differences between men’s and women’s bodies, women are more likely to experience issues with their hearts and blood vessels due to drug abuse, and they are more likely to die from overdose symptoms when they require emergency room treatment due to substance abuse.

Difficulty Facing Cultural Perceptions of Addiction

Women and Addiction

Women who abuse illicit drugs or alcohol tend to endure a much higher degree of social scrutiny due to the gender roles typically assigned to women, specifically as caretakers, nurturers, wives, and mothers. Social attitudes surrounding these roles generally create different expectations for women and their behavior, resulting in very different needs when it comes to substance abuse treatment.

Any person who goes through the process of substance abuse evolving into addiction and ultimately leading to recovery will experience some degree of shame, but this stigma tends to be more acute and harsher for women. Overcoming this stigma or confronting it among friends and even family members can be incredibly distressful, and women face a much higher risk of strained personal relationships as a consequence of substance abuse.

Psychological Challenges Facing Women

Substance abuse researchers believe that the pressure of issues concerning child custody, parenting, divorce, the loss or death of a co-parent or parent, and other traumatic events are more likely to propel women toward substance abuse than men. Women who suffer as victims of domestic violence are also more likely to engage in substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Over time, addiction changes the way the brain processes information and stimuli. These changes tend to occur more rapidly in women, making women more likely to not only experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorders, but also more likely to develop long-term psychiatric conditions as the result of substance abuse.

Substance Abuse and Pregnancy

When substance abuse escalates to dependency and addiction, those who experience this shift may engage in risky behavior more frequently, especially when it comes to securing more of their drug of choice. Women face exceptional risk when it comes to the world of illicit drugs as they are generally more vulnerable to sexual assault and carry a risk of unwanted pregnancy while under the influence.

Whether a pregnancy is wanted or unwanted, expected, or unexpected, a mother’s substance abuse puts her child at incredible risk. Women who abuse opioids and other illicit drugs while pregnant risk serious permanent damage to their babies, increase the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and are also more likely to give birth to children with significant birth defects and medical complications.

Childcare and Substance Abuse Treatment

Many people who have developed substance abuse disorders over the years would not fit into the typical “junkie” stereotype, and some of them are parents with careers and household responsibilities. Mothers who develop addictions may have scheduling problems when it comes to arranging childcare while they go into substance abuse treatment. They may not be able to afford the costs of childcare and allow themselves to experience worsened substance abuse and withdrawal to make ends meet.

It can also be very difficult for women to secure legal representation or substance abuse treatment during or following pregnancy because of the social stigmas surrounding addiction. Very few addiction treatments centers in the US offer the full range of addiction recovery services, legal services, childcare options, and parenting classes that many women with substance abuse disorders need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The Benefits of Women’s-Only Substance Abuse Treatment

The Benefits of Women’s-Only Substance Abuse Treatment

Studies into sex-specific substance abuse treatment has revealed that women tend to display more positive recovery outcomes and higher long-term abstinence rates after completing substance abuse treatment designed specifically for women. There are many reasons for this, but the noticeable increase in quality outcomes tends to fall to specific attention to women’s physical needs and breaking down the guilt, shame, and pressure that social stigmas place on women in substance abuse recovery.

A women’s-only substance abuse treatment program generally allows women to receive more complete and more specific attention to their behaviors, medical needs, and psychosocial issues. Women’s-only treatment tends to be especially effective for women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse during their addictions. Ultimately, it is vital for any woman experiencing substance abuse on any level to understand the unique risks, challenges, and obstacles she may face on her road to recovery.

Echo Recovery exists to help those seeking substance abuse treatment find the programs and treatment centers most suitable to their needs. If you need a women’s-only substance abuse treatment program or want to learn more about what these programs can offer, contact Echo Recovery today and we can connect you with the resources you need to start your path to recovery.

The Benefits of Art Therapy for Addiction Recovery

The Benefits of Art Therapy for Addiction Recovery

A client of a prominent east coast drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility bounced into group one morning eager to share the arts and crafts project she had been assigned to complete the week prior. Clients were given blank paper mâché masks and access to a supply cabinet stocked to the gills with basic craft supplies and asked to visually represent the face they show to the world on the outside of the mask, and what’s really happening within on the inside of the mask. With her mask tucked safely inside a paper bag, she allowed her fellow clients to show off their designs as they narrated the creative process behind their inception.

The Benefits of Art Therapy for Addiction Recovery

One by one, clients trotted out their creations, some abstract or cartoonish in appearance, others painstakingly crafted in their owner’s likeness, but all with some version of darkness or chaos lining their interiors. One was a study in black and white, unadorned on the outside and caked in globs of black tempera on the inside. One client, instead of painting the mask at all, chose to cut it to pieces that she let flutter to the floor with a dramatic flick of the wrist.

When it was finally her turn, she giddily unveiled her masterpiece – the Mona Lisa of rehab mask projects – hand painted to match her exact skin tone and the muted greens of her irises, complete with adhesive drug store eyelashes and finished with long shanks of blonde hair cut from a $40 wig overnighted courtesy of Amazon Prime just for the occasion. This was the face she had become accustomed to showing the world — one of perfection in the details while she skillfully concealed the 24/7 pandemonium that took place behind the scenes. Thus, in contrast to the flawless exterior, the inside of the mask resembled an elaborate high school science project – the architecture of a brain bedazzled with chaotic bursts of color, sparkling gemstones, and Styrofoam eyeballs projected in 3D by curlicue pipe cleaners.

Art Therapy Reveals the True Self 

Welcome to the world of art therapy, my friends. That client was me, and I unwittingly gave my therapist a treasure trove of information to unpack and process over the following few weeks with one simple display of creativity. Where I may have been unable to express through my command of the English language the existence of my obvious perfectionism, much less its origin, my mask spoke volumes about my state of mind and gave my treatment team a roadmap to my psyche.

How Art Therapy Plays a Role in Addiction Recovery

According to the American Art Therapy Association (arttherapy.org, 2017), art therapy can be used “to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”

When utilized in conjunction with a drug and alcohol treatment program, artistic exploration gives clients the opportunity to express themselves through visual and symbolic mediums and communicate in ways that enhance traditional talk therapy. In its traditional application, art therapy is conducted by a master’s level professional whose training has prepared them for the highest ethical standards and culturally proficient work with diverse populations.

How Art Therapy Plays a Role in Addiction Recovery

Creative expression has become a cornerstone of modern rehabilitation programs, giving clients a multi-dimensional platform for exploring the more obvious as well as previously uncharted facets of their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Using both traditional and unconventional mediums, clients can communicate in a holistic way that enhances their wellbeing by reducing stress and depression, bolstering self-esteem, and providing a creative outlet.

As a bonus, creative expression is often the highlight in a day that is otherwise filled with introspection and the hard work of recovery.

What to Expect in an Art Therapy Session

Art therapy and creative expression take many forms, from conventional paint on canvas and pencil on paper, to song and dance, sculpture, vision boards, graphic journaling, roleplay, and mural design. For many, these sessions will be the first time one has explored the arts in sobriety which can feel both intimidating and empowering.

What to Expect in an Art Therapy Session

While working with clients at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center of which I am the Creative Expressions Director, I am often met with resistance by those who have never explored the arts, don’t consider themselves creative, or whose only artistic frame of reference is inexorably linked to using.

I encourage them to discard their preconceived notions of artistic pursuits and lose themselves in the process. We begin with an open mind and ask that they allow the process to be directed by the same higher power that we ask to direct our recoveries. Often, those who think themselves the most artistically challenged produce the most introspective, insightful pieces.

The Benefits of Art Therapy

The benefits of art therapy and creative expression far outweigh the client’s initial discomfort at having to reach beyond his or her safety zone.  These sessions help to:

  • Improve self-management by learning to focus and work within a discipline.
  • Alleviate depression by lowering the heart rate and bolstering dopamine levels.
  • Improve communication skills.
  • Enhance problem-solving skills.
  • Build self-esteem.
  • Mitigate pain, stress, and irritability.
  • Provide a positive distraction.

I personally witnessed the transformation of a client who had, prior to entering treatment, never touched a guitar without first getting high. She was a songwriter who penned dark tales of woe while under the influence and was petrified to unlatch her guitar case in front of her fellow clients. With a great deal of positive encouragement, she plucked through her first song sober and immediately burst into hot, fat tears. She did it!

The Benefits of Art Therapy

She performed in front of a live audience without spontaneously combusting, and at that very moment she created a new, sober frame of reference in her chosen art form.

Music with Maddie* was born and became a regular addition to the weekly schedule. Maddie wrote several original pieces about the journey from addiction to recovery, and after she successfully completed treatment, she flew to California to audition for a nationally televised talent show.

I’ve seen clients pick away at the edges of repressed trauma through guided painting projects.  I’ve watched the most introverted clients blossom like May flowers during an improv session.  I’ve seen wishes manifest into reality after a client enthusiastically shared the vision board that she was loathe to complete with the group.  Clients have prepared entire meals for their housemates after serving as sous chef during one of my cooking demonstrations.  There are those who have changed the trajectory of their recovery, their education, and their career based on projects we embarked on during our Friday afternoons that are entirely devoted to creative expression.

Art Therapy has a Lasting Impact

And that brings us back to the aforementioned mask project. That client explored her perfectionism through group and individual therapy, worked the magic of the 12-steps on it, and is proud to say that she now finds both growth and comfort in imperfection. It’s also what makes her a true believer in the transformative properties of creative expression in all its manifestations.


*name changed to protect anonymity