Daily Archives: March 21, 2006

PTSD and Art Therapy a winning match

The healing canvas – Los Angeles Times

The healing canvas
Art can soothe the mind and body, therapists say. Now science backs them up.
By Jenny Hontz, Special to The Times
March 20, 2006

SIX women sat at a table covered with colored pencils and pastels, each of them focused on drawing a house with rooms representing their emotions and desires.

Susan St. Jon, 63, made an abstract sketch of an African jungle home, with a circle of blank space in the center of the page. It reminded her of a vacation house in which she’d watched wild animals creep dangerously close. The white space, she surmised, was a window onto her uncertain future. “Wherever it’s going to take you, it’s going to take you,” she said, “regardless of what you do.”

The assignment was part of an art therapy support group at UCLA’s Ted Mann Family Resource Center. On this, St. Jon’s third bout with cancer — the disease has spread from her breast to her brain and lungs — she’s struggling to decide whether to pursue chemotherapy or give up the battle. “I’ve already come to terms with death,” she said. “I won’t panic, and I won’t be pushed.”

Art therapy harnesses the creative process to explore such difficult issues. It’s been used to treat mental and physical health problems for more than 50 years and is offered in schools, hospitals, prisons, hurricane shelters and private practice. But only now are scientific studies beginning to show its effectiveness.

In art therapy, patients express their feelings not just through discussion, but through drawing, painting and sculpting. That’s why this type of therapy is thought to be especially helpful for people who have difficulty articulating feelings — including children and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, strokes and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, much of the research has centered on cancer patients. In a pilot study funded by the National Institutes of Health, cancer patients who received eight weeks of group treatment sessions of mindfulness-based art therapy (a combination of meditation and art therapy) reported a significant decrease in distress, anxiety and depression. They also reported significantly improved quality of life and vitality. (Continued here…)