Art Therapy Helps Children Affected by Cancer

Art Therapy

From OncoLog, December 2003, Vol. 48, No. 12

Art Therapy Helps Children Affected by Cancer Express Their Emotions

by Karen Stuyck

Simple lines, bright colors, and primitive shapes give the artwork a decidedly childlike quality, but the scenes the young artists portray are disturbing—a floating house, a person jumping from a burning airplane, a sinister bee that drinks blood.

The art that these young patients and children of patients create is “a window into the less-conscious mind,” said Estela A. Beale, M.D., a child and adult psychiatrist and associate professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The premise behind art therapy—using a young patient’s art for a psychotherapeutic purpose—is that creating pictures allows children to express what is uppermost in their minds more genuinely and spontaneously than they are apt to do in a discussion with the therapist. “What is really important is to let the children express themselves without any influence from an adult,” Dr. Beale said.

Pictures help the therapist understand the children’s perceptions and feelings about what is happening to them and explore possible alternatives to solving problems, Dr. Beale said.

Sometimes the child’s art expresses this information quite graphically, but often the young artist’s thoughts and feelings are “concealed, disguised, or expressed metaphorically,” Dr. Beale said. Continued…

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