At War On Cancer we are all too familiar with the impact going through cancer can have on the mental health of those who have been diagnosed and their loved ones. Cancer is something that’s treated physically and therefore, the psychological impact often gets forgotten.
What else can be done to help those experiencing cancer look after their mental health during a time of great change and uncertainty? For this article we’ve teamed up with The Art Therapy Project, a US based, nonprofit, mental health organisation that provides art therapy to adults and young people affected by trauma to share the ways in which art therapy can help.
What is art therapy?
According to the American Art Therapy Association, Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches lives through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.
Professional art therapists facilitate art therapy, supporting personal and relation treatment goals. It’s often used to improve a whole range of things including self-esteem, self-awareness, cognitive and sensory-motor function and emotional resilience. It’s also used to build social skills, promote insight, resolve distress and help people cope with change.
Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Guided by ethical standards and scope of practice, their education and supervised training prepares them for culturally proficient work with diverse populations in a variety of settings. Honouring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.
Mental Health Benefits
Creating art alone, in any way you enjoy, is therapeutic in and of itself. Spending time creating helps to reduce stress, increase positive emotions and can be an outlet for anything we have been building up inside. Art Therapy simply takes this and pairs it with a trained clinician who can help you delve deeper and guide you in using the art to explore your feelings, things you have previously found or are finding difficult and work out your current strengths and needs.
We don’t give ourselves enough time or space to truly sit with and explore how we’re feeling, which often has a negative effect on our mental health. Art therapy gives people a chance to be their authentic, emotional selves, with the support required to explore and understand themselves.
Going through having cancer – from diagnosis to treatment to its impact on life and relationships – can be very hard on people mentally. Feeling the need to stay strong, while facing a number of challenges, is incredibly draining and it can become difficult to acknowledge how we’re actually feeling – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Art therapy gives people a safe space to process all the different emotions that come with going through cancer, without the need to ‘put on a brave face’. It can be an incredible support tool for anyone with and after cancer.
But, do I need to know how to paint or draw?
Absolutely not! Art therapy is for anyone, no matter your skill set! Art Therapy is about the creative process and using it to get clear on your emotions, not about producing the next Louvre-worthy masterpiece.
To get the benefits of art therapy, all you really need is an open mind to allow yourself to try new things and accept the outcome artistically. It’s also important to remember that Art Therapists are trained clinicians and are skilled in using all different types of media, so they will work with you to find the right fit.
You can find accredited art therapists in the US here and in the UK here.
“The goal of art therapy is to safely approach a traumatic event or experience and express it by putting it into imagery or language. This puts the trauma into a context and articulates its boundaries. Then, there is more of a sense of a continuous, consistent self and an instance of trauma, not the other way around.” – Val Koutmina, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT – The Art Therapy Project Art Therapist
Learn more about The Art Therapy Project via their website.