Medical Art Therapy: Assisting Medical Patients
Art can be a great form of communication, especially for children and adolescents who are ill or hospitalised. This may help to alleviate feelings of helplessness while undergoing intervention, surgery, chemotherapy, burns and the like that place children, adolescents and adults in a passive role. In this way, medical art therapy enables the patient to become an active participant in their own health care.
There are three primary sources of stress caused by the psycho-social impact of illness on children and adolescents.
- Separation from parents or caregivers.
- Loss of independence and control.
- Fear and anxiety about medical procedure, pain and death.
Helpful Benefits of Medical Art Therapy
There are numerous benefits to medical art therapy with children and adolescents. Let’s outline six of them…
- Rebuilding a sense of wellbeing, as the artistic process brings order to the chaos within—especially when words fail.
- Engendering hope by focusing on new goals.
- Enhancing mind and body and encouraging resilience.
- Gaining a sense of mastery by drawing the experience and bringing it into the shared reality with the therapist.
- Helping paediatric patients and patients who struggle to identify their physical symptoms to communicate and clarify their distress or ailments. For instance, pain, headaches and burns can be clarified to aid support and recovery with prompts such as, “Tell me about…”, “Draw your pain…”, “Give it a colour…”, “Where do you feel it?” and “Can you place it on your image?”
- Assessing body image and physical symptoms. This is achieved through making, constructing and drawing techniques such as the Kinetic Family Drawing (KFD) to assess cognitive, interpersonal, or psychological functioning and the Body Outline Form (BOF) for eating disorders.
Medical Art Therapy: Imagery and Mandalas
Using various techniques such as imagery and mandalas for relaxation are helpful especially in medical art therapy with children and adolescents. Three such techniques often used are:
- Bridge drawing in cancer patients for expectations for the future.
- Volcano drawings to understand and manage anxiety.
- The Person Picking an Apple from a Tree (PPAT) assessment for coping abilities and resourcefulness.
Medical Art Therapy for Children, Adolescents and Adults
Art therapy can help children, adolescents and adults emerge from their illness or hospital stay as emotionally whole. Importantly, it can help them regain a sense of control. Furthermore, participating in creative work can help rebuild the patient’s sense of hope, self-esteem and confidence while offering opportunities for the safe expression of feelings.
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).