Art Therapy, also known as Creative Arts Therapy or Expressive Arts Therapy is a healing modality based on the premise that the integration of art into the healing process can be emotionally restorative and can serve as an outlet for the expression of all the emotions a diagnosis like cancer brings.
Young children with cancer have so much to face, dealing with extra-ordinary challenges every day such as various medical procedures such as MRIs, X-Rays, Catheters, Transfusions, Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiation, and the side-effects of those treatments. They also lose a big part of their childhood as they have to give up many things most kids take for granted.
They are often absent from school for months at a time, either at home or in the hospital; they lose touch with their friends; meeting friends on the playground, visiting at each other’s homes, just being part of a community of friends and family, are replaced by hours spent alone, and trips to the doctor, hospital or outpatient clinic.
Creativity is, in a very fundamental manner, tied to our sense of being vital, alive and healthy. Physical illness, especially an illness as devastating as cancer, does not only affect the body, but the mind and the spirit too.
Art therapy can take place in groups or on a one-to-one basis, and can incorporate the use of a variety of hands-on materials, techniques, and tools, including:
- acrylic paints
- collage materials and coloured paper (origami and tissue)
- drawing instruments (charcoal and graphite pencils, pens, and ink)
- modelling clay
- watercolours (paints, pens, pencils, and crayons) and more
Art Therapy as a Complementary Therapy
Many individuals living with cancer, their partners and family members have used art therapy as a way to help deal with their emotions; it can be the perfect medium for those who have difficulty expressing their feelings with words, which is why it is perfect for children.
Research has shown that art therapy can be very useful in helping children and teens communicate how they feel about their cancer and treatment, what they think their cancer looks like, how they see themselves once treatment is finished, and how the cancer has affected their relationship with friends and family.
Benefits of Art Therapy
Undergoing a slew of medical tests and procedures, constantly being nauseous, and losing ones hair can be dehumanising, especially for a child, who may not be capable of understanding the healing intent behind the scans, needles and medicines.
Art Therapy allows young cancer patients to do creative work within the limitations imposed by their illness, restoring a sense of self and wholeness. Fighting cancer is hard work, and recovery may take a very long time.
Experiencing oneself as a creator within the treatment setting changes how young patients see themselves; they become active partners in the work of getting well, not just passive patients who can only take the nasty medicine and wait for better days.
The process of seeing and exploring the images created through art therapy can prove a welcome distraction from the uphill battle with cancer and also help one to:
- Become more self-aware
- Build self-esteem
- Communicate and interact more effectively with others
- Express fears, anxieties, and other emotions that may be difficult to verbalise
- Find comfort, freedom, and hope
- Improve quality of life
- Lessen stress
Building Lasting Bonds
Art Therapy in a communal setting, even involving the family, can re-establish old bonds and build new ones as these little cancer fighters share in the creative process with not only age peers, but children in a similar situation as themselves, and can make them feel a lot less isolated in their illness.
A group art therapy session with other children or even with adults included too, will allow the patient to experience themselves as normal children; making friends, working together, playing together, learning and laughing, doing the things all kids do.
Art Therapy for Cancer Research
Various studies have been conducted on the use of art therapy for those with cancer in the following areas:
Art Therapy for Cancer Symptoms: A 2010 review looked at 12 different studies that researched art therapy for cancer symptoms that included psychological symptoms and some physical symptoms, and the meaning of experiences of art therapy for people who took part.
Art therapy has shown benefits in helping individuals to express the physical and emotional effects of having cancer, as well as improving various symptoms experienced including distress, depression, fatigue, and general health.
Art Therapy for Coping with Cancer: Various studies have reported some very positive aspects of using art therapy, including helping survivors to capture the most intimate and personal aspects of the cancer experience.
Mindfulness Based Art Therapy: The results of a clinical trial published in 2005 into a type of group therapy called mindfulness based art therapy (MBAT) suggest that this type of therapy could help people with cancer control their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Art Therapy for Children and Young People: A 2001 study that looked at utilising art therapy for children undergoing painful procedures for leukaemia such as a bone marrow biopsy or lumbar puncture found that children who had art therapy were more able to cooperate during the procedures and were also less distressed.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.
LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication or undergoing any therapy, natural or otherwise.