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Art therapy a creative way to process emotions

01 January, 2022

Today is “Inspire Your Heart With Art” Day, a great time to share information about how art therapy can play a role in cancer rehabilitation and healing—whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual.

Art therapy is more than simple arts and crafts, although those activities have their place a cancer survivor’s life and are certainly valuable as a hobby or activity. Studies have shown that these types of activities can improve mood, aid in relaxation, and provide distraction from illness.

Art therapy, however, can go a step further. The practice, which includes mediums such as drawing, painting, clay, sculpture or writing, is often used as a way for someone to express emotions through art that are difficult to express in conversation with a therapist or other provider. Sessions can provide an opportunity for meaning making, open up a conversation opportunity to discuss the experience of illness, and provide a way to reflect on one’s emotions with the support of a trained art therapist.

Matt Zytkoskee, Ph.D., is the writing and health director at The Center Foundation in Reno. He leads the “Portraits of My Life” workshop, a writing program designed to support individual goals while engaging with a community of others.

“From the moment we’re born to the moment we cross the divide, our lives are filled with waves of sensations and experiences all taking place in the present moment,” said Zytkoskee. “When we write the stories of our lives, we get a unique opportunity to reflect upon these sensations and experiences and shape our understanding of where we’ve been and where we’re going. We become witnesses. We become creators.”

Zytkoskee said during the workshop, participants are given the opportunity to process, preserve, and share their lives with others through writing, even if they’ve never written before.

Cancer Community Clubhouse, a northern Nevada cancer survivorship and thriver network, works with The Center Foundation and offers workshops and sessions specifically for thrivers. This year, they’re offering a virtual workshop that combines journaling, creative writing, and music, along with occasional create sessions.

In southern Nevada, Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada offers art therapy programs for children and their families.

Some therapists in Nevada also offer art therapy that’s not tailored to cancer specifically, but provide a creative outlet for expression. Check with your insurance provider to see if art therapy programs are covered by your plan.

Sources: Kaimal, Girija et al. “Outcomes of Therapeutic Artmaking in Patients Undergoing Radiation Oncology Treatment: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study.” Integrative cancer therapies vol. 19 (2020): 1534735420912835. doi:10.1177/1534735420912835

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