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Feeling better with Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art therapy may be one of the lesser-known complementary and alternative therapies available.  It utilizes therapeutic techniques coupled with the creative process to improve emotional well-being. The idea of creative expression was initially developed in the 1930s for mental health professionals. Patients used it as a source of communication to help deal with mental distress. The thought behind it stems from the belief that creativity helps with healing. Art therapy helps individuals cope with physical, mental, and emotional problems by heightening their sense of self-awareness and expressing themselves through their artistic creations.


How does art therapy work?

Art therapy is often used as an outlet, it is a means to communicate feelings using artistic materials. Sessions can take place one-on-one with an art therapist or in a group setting. Therapists work with patients by starting a dialogue about their artwork and encouraging discussion that can lead to exploration and insights into their emotions.

Art therapy can be especially helpful for those individuals who have difficulty with articulating their feelings. Supporters claim that it increases confidence and self-esteem, reduces stress, distracts from pain and discomfort, and can even be a way to express suppressed emotions.


Cancer & art therapy benefits

The practice has become increasing popular with cancer patients. It is said to help with fatigue, depression, stress, and emotional well-being. Proponents claim that creativity also helps with coping with grief and the healing process. Patients report feeling better-equipped to deal with their illness, treatment, and the recovery process. There has been research investigating the benefits of art therapy on patients currently undergoing treatment for cancer. One study, conducted on women diagnosed with cancer who underwent 8 weeks of mindfulness-based art therapy, reported decreased symptoms of distress and improvements in quality of life [i].

Creative art therapy encompasses more than drawing and painting. It also includes clay and sculpture work as well as photography. No experience is necessary and all levels are encouraged to participate. Therapists are certified in art therapy techniques and often work in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers. Many cancer hospitals offer art therapy as a complementary therapy for their patients.

Therapists focus on supporting and encouraging the artistic process in a safe and open environment. It’s a useful complement to conventional cancer care by helping patients cope with their disease and improve quality of life [ii].

It is important that all patients consult their oncologist or healthcare provider before starting or undergoing any complementary therapy.


[i] Monti DA, Peterson C, Shakin Kunkel EJ, Hauck WW, Pequignot E, Rhodes L, Brainard GC. A randomized, controlled trial of mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) for women with cancer. 2006;15(5):363-373.
[ii] American Cancer Society. Art therapy. Accessed September, 2014.
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