How Art Therapy Eases Stress if You Have Cancer

Creative process helps ease anxiety, promote relaxation
How Art Therapy Eases Stress if You Have Cancer

When you or someone you love has cancer, a range of emotions — fear, anger, sadness — may overwhelm you at times. It’s difficult to know how to channel those feelings. But art therapy can help you express yourself and cope with stress and anxiety.

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Art therapist Lisa Shea, ATR-BC, says art therapy can help the person with cancer and his or her loved ones cope.

“Art therapists are specially trained to provide emotional support and assist patients and their family members in processing feelings,” she says. Most therapists have a master’s degree in art therapy.

She answers our questions about how the program works and how it helps.

Q: What are the benefits of art therapy?

A: Art therapy offers you an opportunity for self-expression. It also helps decrease anxiety and promotes relaxation. If you have cancer, it can help decrease pain and help you through your rehabilitation.

“Participation in art therapy can give families a chance to do something positive together during a very stressful time,” Ms. Shea says. “They can create good memories in the midst of the storm.”

For those who are willing to approach the materials with a sense of play and exploration, art therapy provides an opportunity to “experience joy and growth despite difficult circumstances,” she says.

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It allows you to have choice and control at a time when it might feel like you don’t have either one.

Q: What types of art do therapists work with?

A: In addition to drawing, painting, collage and sculpture, the program offers beading and fabric painting as well.

“We carry beads in every cancer awareness color so that patients can make a cancer awareness bracelet or a gratitude bracelet,” Ms. Shea says.

Silk scarves are part of the supplies as well, including headscarves. These also serve as a head covering for someone with hair loss from chemotherapy, she says.

Q: Do you need artistic talent to participate?

A: No, you don’t need to have any previous art experience. However, many people discover abilities they never knew they had, and develop skills they take with them and use after leaving the hospital.

“Art therapy is different from art class in that the emphasis is on the creative process vs. perfecting a technique,” Ms. Shea says.

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She emphasizes that it’s not about producing the “perfect” piece of art. It’s about “focusing on something positive and productive versus worrying about your diagnosis and treatment.”

Q: How can you find out more about art therapy and where it’s offered?

A: Ms. Shea says many hospitals offer art therapy for patients with cancer and other conditions. Ask your nurses or doctors whether your hospital offers an art therapy program. Ms. Shea recommends the American Art Therapy Association website as a resource that may help you find options near you.

At Cleveland Clinic, those with cancer receive information about art therapy in a special journal. Nurses and staff members are aware of the program and its benefits and can help patients get involved.

Q: Do you need an appointment for art therapy?

A: It may vary from hospital to hospital, but at Cleveland Clinic, you do not. Patients and loved ones can drop by without an appointment during studio hours. They may come in before, after or in between chemotherapy, rehabilitation and other appointments.

Ms. Shea says she works with as many as 15 participants in the studio at a time. And those working in the studio often share emotional support with each other as well.

She also brings art therapy directly to the chemotherapy suites if you prefer. She delivers art supplies so patients and their family members can work during treatment.

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