Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Art therapy

Creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provides a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness, and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness. The art therapist uses pictures, art supplies and visual symbols as well as an understanding of behavior to help patients address their own personal concerns and conflicts.

Art therapists work with patients individually or in groups. The art therapist provides the materials necessary to create paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other types of artwork. This type of therapy may help you express feelings about cancer through art and discuss emotions and concerns as related to it. In another form of art therapy you may view pieces of art, often in photographs, and then talk with a therapist about what you see.

Can art therapy help people with cancer?
How does art therapy work?
Are there any possible problems or complications associated with art therapy?

Can art therapy help people with cancer?

Art therapy is a body-mind therapy. The American Cancer Society states that art therapy has not undergone rigorous scientific study to determine its therapeutic value for people with cancer, but many clinicians have observed and documented significant benefits among people who have participated in art therapy. Participating in art therapy or creating art on your own can be an effective form of distraction as well. Thinking about and creating art can help to distract you from focusing on thoughts of pain and anxiety.

Many art therapists believe this type of therapy works, in part, because of the act of creating art influences brain wave patterns and the substances released by the brain. It helps people express hidden emotions, reduce stress, fear and anxiety and provides a sense of freedom.

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How does art therapy work?

Creating art with an art therapist helps you express painful thoughts or memories possibly related to your cancer diagnosis. This may, in turn, help you cope with the difficulties of the diagnosis. In conventional mental health therapy, people talk with a counselor. To talk about traumatic or painful experiences that may be hidden in the subconscious mind is an important part of the healing process. In much the same way, creating a drawing or painting of an emotion or event can serve as a tool that helps the art therapist guide you through the process of dealing with similar concerns.

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Are there any possible problems or complications associated with art therapy?

Art therapy is considered safe and may help people with cancer deal with their emotions. However, it does not cure cancer. Art therapy, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive, but should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your physician for more information.

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