"Art therapy is the deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs. Art therapy uses art media and the creative process to help in areas such as, but not limited to: fostering self-expression, enhancing coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening a sense of self."
--The Art Therapy Alliance
"We use the creative art process to facilitate personal well-being."
--Northern Ireland Group for Art as Therapy (NIGAT)
"Art Therapy is about using art as a tool for communication and through the therapeutic relationship, emotional, psychosocial and developmental needs are addressed with the intention of effecting lasting change."
--Hong Kong Association of Art Therapists (HKAAT)
Art Therapy in Medical Settings
Art therapy in medical settings-- often called "medical art therapy"-- is practiced in hospitals, clinics, trauma units, and wellness centers. Bookmark this page for information on art therapy in hospitals with children, adults, and families; research announcements on medical art therapy; and the latest media, articles, and press releases.
Join the Dialogue on Medical Art Therapy
If you are a member of the Art Therapy Alliance, you will be able to join the Medical Art Therapy Group on LinkedIn. Join the dialogue and learn more about medical art therapy from experts in the profession with moderator Rachel Schreibman.
Perspectives on Art Therapy and Medical Settings
From "Medical Art Therapy with Children" by Tracy Councill: "Medical applications of art therapy are a natural extension of the use of art therapy with psychiatric populations. The fundamental qualities that make the creative process empowering to children in general can be profoundly normalizing agents for those undergoing medical treatment. When the ill child engages in art making, he or she is in charge of the work—the materials to be used; the scope, intent, and imagery; when the piece is finished; and whether it will be retained or discarded. All these factors are under the child artist’s control. Participating in creative work within the medical setting can help rebuild the young patient’s sense of hope, self-esteem, autonomy, and competence while offering opportunities for safe and contained expression of feelings....Art therapy has been used with a variety of pediatric medical populations, including cancer, kidney disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, and severe burns (Malchiodi, 1999). When medical art therapy is included as part of team treatment, art expression is used by young patients to communicate perceptions, needs, and wishes to art therapists, mental health professionals, child life specialists, and medical personnel. It is extremely useful in assessing each young patient’s strengths, coping styles, and cognitive development. Information gathered through artworks can be invaluable to the medical team as it seeks to treat the whole person, not just the disease or diagnosis [Handbook of Art Therapy, 2002]."
From "Art Making and Illness"by Cathy Malchiodi..."art therapy is used to help people “open up,” to make visible their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions through drawing, painting, and other art forms. The goal of “opening up” is to help people understand the source of emotional distress or trauma and to alleviate and resolve conflicts...Opening up through art expression can also contribute to health and wellness, and sharing powerful or disturbing feelings is known to contribute to overall physical well-being. We are all familiar with the stressful effects of holding onto anger, anxiety, or grief. Unexpressed, these feelings can have harmful effects on the body, such as heart disease, chronic pain, or immune dysfunction. Research on the impact of expressing traumatic experiences underscores its health-giving benefits, including increased immunity and the need for fewer visits to a doctor.
Because art serves as a way to open up about feelings, it provides health-care professionals with information about their patients. From his experiences with cancer patients of all ages, Bernie Siegel observes that drawing is an easy and reliable way to reveal otherwise unexpressed feelings and beliefs. To help him understand his patients’ perceptions of their cancer, he asks them to make a few very simple drawings, depicting themselves, their treatment, their disease, their white cells eliminating the disease, and an additional drawing of anything they choose. He uses drawing to help people open up and talk about feelings or experiences they might not otherwise share. For example, a drawing may be extremely helpful in revealing a patient’s unexpressed conflicts about treatment. While a person may say that chemotherapy is helpful in eliminating his or her cancer, on an unconscious level the person may be feeling that the treatment is poison. These unrecognized beliefs, emotions, and perceptions about illness and medical interventions are important in developing an appropriate medical program for the patient [Art Therapy Sourcebook, 2006]."
Watch a film about art therapist Emily Johnson to learn more about art therapy with hospitalized children:
For More Information on Art Therapy and Medical Settings, See...
On art therapy and oncology, see "The Bone Fractured Fairy Tale: A Story of Art as Salvation," at Psychology Today. "In a growing number of hospitals across the US, cancer patients are using art to express emotions and reduce stress. It is one application of art therapy that has demonstrated outcome through several evidence-based studies. And it's the subject of a recent public radio interview, "The Role of Art in Healing," featuring Brunner's first person account...read more here.
For recent art therapy research, see this article on the role of art therapy in the overall health and well being of women with breast cancer. Swedish researchers reported that women having radiation treatment for breast cancer experienced lasting improvements in mental and physical health and quality of life after participating in as little as five sessions of art therapy. After six months, women who had participated in art therapy showed significant improvements in their overall quality of life, general health, physical health, and psychological health; the control group only showed improvements in psychological health. The women who participated in art therapy also had improvements in their perceptions of body image, outlook, and side effects of radiation treatment.
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