Art Therapy: Medicine for the Spirit

Rachel using sponge to apply paint

Rachel using sponge to apply paint.

The Child Life Specialist on her unit referred Rachel to me for Art Therapy today. When I introduced myself to Rachel shortly afterward, she welcomed an art therapy session saying “I love art. It means a lot to me.” Rachel got right to work on her first painting which she described as “abstract”. Painting with a brush and also using a sponge to create texture, she produced this beautifully balanced work of art.

Untitled: Acrylic on Paper by Rachel, 12 years old

Untitled: Acrylic on Paper by Rachel, 12 years old

For her second painting, Rachel used tissue paper to apply paint and a brush to splash water to create the effect she was after.

Rachel splashing water on painting using a paint brush

Rachel splashing water on painting using a paint brush.

Untitled II

Untitled II

Of Art Therapy she said, “It was a very fun experience. I would love to do it again!”

by Lucy Barbera, PhD, LCAT,  Medical Art Therapist

Why Art is important for the healthy growth and development of children:

As parents, we know first hand how important art activities are for our children. Art-making provides children with pleasurable and relaxing activity, especially because there are very few rules to follow and their spontaneous expression is “right” just the way it comes out on the page.  Children receive positive reinforcement for their whimsical drawings and paintings, from parents and friends alike. In this way, art builds self-confidence and self-esteem, while giving children the opportunity to make choices on their own and take appropriate control of their expression.   When children are wound up and stressed out from things like: school, holiday hype, too much television, or technology, art-making supplies the perfect antidote because it is naturally relaxing.

Art Therapy: Why Art is important in the hospital setting:

Knowing what we do about the importance of art for children’s healthy growth and development helps us to understand why the art-making option is so valuable for children in the hospital setting.  At some point in their youth, children may have to be hospitalized in order to receive the care necessary for them to heal.  Unfortunately, along with its positive effects, hospitalization can trigger anxiety and stress in children.  As a normal, pleasurable activity, art-making provides pediatric patients with a known and trusted way to safely adapt to new conditions and surroundings, because it allows them to have choice and control in a setting where, understandably, they have very little.  Art-making enhances their sense of predictability, (because they are making all of the decisions as they create a painting or sculpture), while at the same time providing a medium through which they can express their anxiety or other feelings. Art works powerfully as a distraction from pain. I have seen patients so involved in their creations that their pain actually subsides.

Art-making helps pediatric patients cope with trauma, build resilience, and feel empowered.   Art provides an alternative form of communication, helping pediatric patients tell us about the physical aspects of their illness and pain in a unique way.

Finally, art allows patients to create a permanent visual record of their feelings, so that one day they can look back on their experience and their courage, and safely re-tell their story.

It is comforting for parents to know that while children are in the hospital receiving the medicine they need to feel better; art-making is there to support them with “a healing medicine for the spirit”.

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