Art Therapy And Cancer

Topics: Art Therapy

Cancer, a highly prevalent disease, has impacted society in the United States and across the world. It is among the leading causes of death globally. By 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide (National Cancer Institute, 2018).

There are multiple side effects of cancer that may manifest and affect a patient’s mental distress, such as panic attacks, serious depression, phobias, and tension. Even daily functioning, including sleep, appetite, and irritability, may also be affected by a cancer diagnosis.

(Glinzak, 2016). Due to exhaustion, isolation, and physical and emotional distress, patients with cancer may experience a greater quality of life from participating in art therapy. The goals of art therapy are to decrease their physical and emotional distress while increasing their choices and need for control. The paper will address treatment settings, art therapy interventions, and art materials used with this population.

Art Therapy with Adult Cancer PatientsAmong the many types of illnesses, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide (National Cancer Institute, 2018). Cancer not only affects one’s daily life but also has an impact on family, friends, and co-workers. The disease is not biased, it affects all genders, races, cultures, and economic levels. Although cancer has gained more recognition throughout the decades, it is still an illness that is being researched today. Many people die from this disease, National Cancer Institute (2018) estimated that in 2018, 609,640 people will die from cancer and 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Due to the severity of the disease, individuals’ physical and mental states are at risk.

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The relationship between the mind and over immune system plays a major role in the disease. The psychological functioning influences the immune system which affects growth and the healing process of cancer recovery (Glinzak, 2016). Since the healing process is tainted, complementary therapies come into play. In the larger scheme of mind-body therapies and cancer treatment, art therapy is recognized as complementary therapy. Complementary therapies help control a patient’s symptoms and increase well-being by working with other treatments and supporting typical cancer care. Art therapy has been shown to respond to the effects of the illness by strengthening self-identity and promoting spiritual and emotional well-being (Nainis, 2011). Treatment SettingsThere is multiple settings where individuals with cancer get treatment such as a hospital or in the comforts of one’s home. In a proxy pre-test study, art therapist Glinzak (2011) examined to identify decreased distress after art therapy in four settings—oncology unit, infusion clinic, individual session, and open studio. Most recommendations for art therapy were offered to adult cancer patients in the infusion and oncology unit due to having to sit alone for a long period of

Time while they got treatment. The art therapists may go from room to room with a roller bag full of art supplies asking if the patient or their support would care to do art therapy. Patients had the option to decline participation or to ask the art therapist to come at a more appropriate time. However, difficulties were met with patients consistently because their appointments were frequently changed in the setting. Also, the infusion clinic did not have much privacy because many seats were occupied by people who were less than a couple of feet away from one another; which could influence the freedom or authenticity of a person’s art creation (Glinzak, 2016). Art therapy may be restricted in certain settings due to the required sterile procedures. Thus, patients were offered and invited to attend the hospital’s open studio or individual sessions as a substitute because it provided a better variety of creative activities. (Glinzak, 2016). The researchers found that patients were able to bring their decisional conflicts into art therapy and attempt to resolve them. Participants used art therapy to access creative ways of thinking, gain reflective distance to manage emotions, and reduce stress so that vital decisions could be made with confidence (Glinzak, 2016). Individual art therapy offered a more intimate and sustained way to meet patients’ needs. The art therapist may focus on one directive or propose a different directive each time the patient and therapist meet. Within an attuned, responsive relationship, verbal communication usually was not necessary (Glinzak, 2016). In the end, the study established that there was a general decrease in distress after art therapy and that the open art therapy studio provided the greatest decrease, although no specific setting was more valuable for decreasing distress (Glinzak, 2016). Art Therapy InterventionsThe main goal of art therapy when working with individuals who have cancer is to strengthen self-identity and promote spiritual and emotional well-being (Nainis, 2011). There are

Multiple art therapy interventions are used when working with cancer patients. From using basic materials such as paint, watercolor, markers, and colored pencils, to making jewelry, decorating frames and boxes, or collaging, these materials have the benefits of creating purposeful aesthetic results. Introducing different kinds of activities that are empowering for patients, allows for a greater sense of self-wroth especially if they are feeling exposed by their illness. Making various objects that can be used or given away as a gift, validates the patient’s sense of efficiency (Nainis, 2011). But first, selecting the right art material requires insight and careful consideration. Infection control is a significant consideration for cancer patients who have suppressed immunity due to their diseases and their treatments. As a result, it is best not to bring a cart full of art materials into a patient’s room, but to keep it near the doorway to avoid it from being contaminated or contaminating the patient. All art materials should be either brand new or cleaned with an alcohol rub to kill any microbes that could spread infection. It is important that all supplies were bacteria and fungus-free (Zammit, 2011). In addition, the use of odorless art materials should be considered due to cancer patients being sensitive to smells, which can prompt nausea or headaches. These issues should be judicious before selecting art projects for cancer patients (Zammit, 2011). At Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, “walkabout: looking in, looking out” is a new mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) intervention that has been used from 2010 to 2014. Walkabout assimilates mindful outdoor walking with participants taking digital photographs that use their pictures to construct collages within an experiential framework of mindfulness and creativity that unfolds over 8 weeks. Patients are given digital cameras to explore experiential awareness and practice mindful attention by recording responses to sensory stimuli on walks. Participants were asked to take pictures of what they moved towards as pleasant and to also photograph what they experience as unpleasant. Each selected 10 pictures for printing in a variety

Selected photos were made available in the following session, which was used with a range of art and collage media. Photography and collage-making encouraged both open-ended creative expression and foundations of mindfulness practice such as non-judging, trust, patience, non-striving, beginner’s mind, acceptance, and letting things be (Peterson, 2015). Since cancer is known to cause physical and mental disruptions in the body, many cancer patients feel too fatigued, cantankerous, depressed, or stressed to create art. A study was done where Lee, Choi, Kim, Sun, Park, Kim, Kang, and Koom (2016) evaluated the effectiveness of art therapy based on the appreciation of famous paintings on the distress of cancer patients. The major focus for the painting selection was using a variety of emotional stimuli for patients, that involved both positive and negative emotions. When looking at the famous paintings, patients could get inspired and recreate their favorite paintings they witnessed or emotions they felt. The famous painting appreciation module has been shown to encourage patients’ relaxation and distraction from their disease, and promote interest and gratification, which can lead to greater mindfulness. Also, the expressions of depressed feelings allowed patients to overcome hindrance and ease self-adjustment of their emotions, and a better understanding of self (Lee et al. 2016). ConclusionThere have been major improvements and advancements in cancer research. Technology, research, and treatment of cancer have and will be advancing still throughout time. Since the disease is physically and mentally draining, most patients feel fatigued, depressed, and lonely; that is where art therapy is introduced to allow for strengthening self-identity and promoting spiritual and emotional well-being (Zammit, 2011). Not only does art therapy promote well-being and free self-expression but allows for the patient to be in control which is huge for this population. Individuals with cancer are unable to control what cancer they get, or treatment goes into their

Art-making can occur anywhere—oncology units, infusion rooms, studios, and bedsides. Using a variety of art materials from paint, markers, 3D materials, and jewelry, patients can explore materials at their control. However, art materials must be cleaned or odorless due to cancer patients being sensitive to smells. Even though cancer and art therapy are being brought to attention, there is still more research to be done. Still, everywhere a person goes there will always be an individual suffering from cancer whether a friend, family member, or stranger. There will always be a demand for art therapy in the medical industry that keeps cancer patients healing in multiple ways.

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Art Therapy And Cancer. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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