The use of art to promote healing and manage physical and emotional problems has been around for a few centuries, but “art therapy” as a science has become especially popular during the last 30-40 years or so. This is thanks in part to the formation of the American Art Therapy Association and the offering of college degree programs in art therapy. Art therapy is now known to be extremely valuable to those battling difficult cancers like mesothelioma.
How Does it Work?
Art therapy is most often used to help patients come to grips with or express concerns about their disease, especially in the case of terminal patients.These days, many mesothelioma clinics and cancer centers employ art therapists on staff and make them a part of the teams of medical professionals that treat cancer patients.
In an inpatient setting, art therapists can work with individuals or with groups of patients who are dealing with the same challenges. There is no need for patients to have experience in art or to be “artistic” – i.e. able to draw or paint – in order to participate in this form of therapy.
Generally, art therapy provides a way for a patient to express themselves, whether it’s through creating art or observing art. Certified art therapists also work to help the patient deal with stress, fear, and anxiety. Patients, such as those battling mesothelioma cancer for example, may be asked to draw an image of themselves with cancer, and through this image, patients may be able to express conscious or unconscious concerns about their disease. Therapists aren’t looking for expert drawings; just a vehicle to initiate discussion.
Art therapy may also involve looking at paintings or photographs – usually chosen by the therapist – and patients may then be asked to express their feelings about what they’ve observed.
Does it Work?
A number of clinical trials have been conducted involving the use of art therapy for patients with a number of different disorders and diseases, both physical and mental, including cancer. For example, a 2002-2006 study at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia reported on the use of “mindfulness-based art therapy” in cancer patients and showed a reduction of pain and anxiety in those who attended eight (8) 2.5-hour therapy sessions.
Similarly, an art therapy study involving 41 breast cancer patients “strongly supports art therapy as a powerful tool in rehabilitation of patients with breast cancer and, presumably, also in the care of patients with other types of cancer,” said study leader Dr. Jack Lindh of Umea University, Umea, Sweden. Researchers involved in this study noted that the 5 therapy sessions in which the women participated allowed the patients to “process and express” their emotions, therefore improving their quality of life. Coping skills also improved in those who participated in the therapy sessions.
Art therapists do not profess to be able to cure cancer in any way. However, they do aim to provide an artistic outlet for those battling cancer and, as a result, prompt a reduction of stress, anxiety, or depression. In addition, those who participate in art therapy while experiencing acute or chronic pain often report a reduction in pain, most likely attributed to the fact that they were otherwise engaged during the pain and, hence, were not concentrating on their discomfort.
What You Need to Know
Art therapy is safe for anyone of any age. However, patients should never be forced to participate in this activity. Furthermore, it should be understood that the expressing of emotions connected with their cancer may cause temporary distress for some patients.
Art therapy is an alternative/complementary therapy and should never be used alone but in conjunction with traditional therapies designed to treat cancer.
American Art Therapy Association