Art Therapy

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Example of Collage.

People with cancer can benefit from using Art Therapy to cope with their disease any time during and after treatment. The Art Therapy sessions available at Swedish Cancer Institute introduce creative ways for patients to respond to their cancer experience, and they provide a safe space to explore thoughts and express feelings about cancer.

 Art Therapy may also help reduce the pain and anxiety often associated with cancer, reduce stress, and help patients achieve personal insight.

 This service is available at no extra cost, and is open to all cancer patients, family members and caregivers.

What Is Art Therapy?

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Example of Healing Hearts Ornaments

Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which patients work with a credentialed art therapist. It is the use of art materials in combination with counseling. It is more about the process of making art, rather than the product or finished piece of art. No creative or artistic experience is required to benefit from Art Therapy.

Contact our Art Therapist Bonnie Walchuk with questions or to schedule a visit: 206-215-6178.

In the video below, learn what art therapy is and what to expect in an appointment.

Read the transcript

Benefits of Art Therapy

Art Therapy is is a supportive and beneficial therapy that can help people process their thoughts and emotions around their cancer experience. Research shows that Art Therapy can help reduce symptoms related to pain and anxiety in patients with cancer. Other benefits: 
  • Experience a new outlet for emotions
  • Explore feelings that are difficult to put into words
  • Increase self-awareness and self-discovery
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Gain a sense of control and hope
  • Build positive coping skills and resiliency
  • Increase connection to others and support systems
  • Improve well-being and quality of life 

What to Expect

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Example of Guatemalan-Inspired Worry Dolls.

During Art Therapy, patients work with various art materials including pastels, paint, clay and construction paper to create everything from a sculpture to a painting to a collage.

  • Art Therapy does not require any prior artistic training or experience.
  • Swedish provides all materials needed for the sessions.
  • All Art Therapy at Swedish is free of cost.
  • Open to all cancer patients, family members, and caregivers.

Individual & Group Art Therapy at Swedish

Art Therapy is offered at the First Hill, Edmonds and Issaquah locations.

First Hill Campus

Individual Art Therapy
Mondays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sessions are 50 minutes, and involve art-making and counseling with an Art Therapist  Sessions are by appointment only. 

Art & Wellness Group 
Drop-in; no appointment needed. Tuesdays (ongoing) 10am-noon, in 5th floor, Healing Forum in the Arnold Pavilion

Edmonds Campus

Individual Art Therapy
Thursdays and Fridays. Sessions are 50 minutes, and involve art-making and counseling with an Art Therapist. Session are by appointment only.

Art & Wellness Group 
Drop-in; no appointment needed. Fridays (ongoing) 10am-11:30am, in the Medical Oncology Building lobby

Issaquah Campus

Art & Wellness Group 
Drop-in; no appointment needed. Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month (ongoing) 2-4 p.m. in the Cancer Education Center.

Contact the Art Therapy program at SCI

General questions; scheduling for First Hill: 206-215-6178

Scheduling for Edmonds: 425-640-4984

For more information about art therapy education and credentialing, please visit the Art Therapy Credentials board at https://www.atcb.org

What to Expect in Art Therapy - Video Transcript

Hello. My name is Zandi Salstrom and I'm one of the Art Therapists here at the Swedish Cancer Institute. In this podcast I will explain what art therapy is (and who it’s for), what it is not, some of the benefits of art therapy, what to expect during a typical art therapy visit, and information for scheduling an appointment or joining a group.

First, I would like to start by acknowledging that the term “art therapy” can bring up a lot of different reactions in people. Many folks are afraid to try making art, because they think they’re not “creative” enough or “talented” enough, or maybe they’ve had negative experiences with art in the past. Most people we meet haven't made art since elementary school, and we want to assure you that you do not need artistic skill or confidence to try art therapy. Anyone can participate in art therapy, and we believe that there is no wrong way to make art.  It can be helpful to hear that for most of us, what we picture in our mind is not exactly what comes out of our hands. So, in Art Therapy, we make room for what shows up in our art, rather than what we think should be or look like.

So, exactly what is Art Therapy? Art therapy is a mental health modality that includes art making and counseling with a professional Art Therapist. 

At Swedish, Art Therapy it is intended to bring together physical, emotional, and spiritual care by offering creative ways for patients to respond to their cancer experience. 

It’s important to know that art therapy is therapy. Art making itself is therapeutic. It transcends words, and gives a voice to feelings that there are no words for. And Art Therapy is a time for you to use art to explore the variety of issues that may come up with illness. 
Art therapy helps when we have pain or stress, because those experiences often get stored in nonverbal parts of the brain. When we make art while focusing on painful or stressful events, it can help the brain “shift gears” and help us process at a deeper level, than in comparison to only talking about our experiences. 

This means that in art therapy, you may find that you are able to reach a new depth of understanding about yourself and your experiences. 

This also means that the ART in Art Therapy is way more about the act of making art, and communicating and expressing THROUGH art, rather than the goal of making something that’s pretty or realistic.

Let's talk for a moment about what art therapy is not. Art therapy is not an instructional art class. In other words, we don't teach you how to make art. The goals of Art Therapy are different than an Art Class, in the sense that we aren’t attempting to master any particular art skill. We will help you in becoming familiar with different types of art media and supplies. We will encourage you to play and experiment with those supplies. In art therapy we’re not here to judge, critique, or interpret your artwork. We will invite you to view your art and find your own meaning about your experience what you've created.

People decide to come to art therapy for many different reasons, and benefit from it in a variety of ways. 

  • During illness many parts of life may feel out of control, and making art is one way to help regain the sense of control 
  • Art therapy provides outlets for feelings
  • Art therapy is a wonderful way to learn and practice positive coping skills
  • Research shows that art therapy reduces symptoms related to pain and anxiety in patients with cancer
  • Art therapy increases self-awareness and self-discovery
  • Art Therapy supports stress management and relaxation
  • We often hear people say they're simply relieved to get their worries out of their head and onto paper where they can sort through them out or use art to transform them

At the Swedish Cancer Institute, Art Therapy is a free service, and is open to oncology patients and family members. We see people who have just been diagnosed with cancer, are in active cancer treatment, or are in survivorship, meaning that when people have completed treatment and they're looking for a place to process their experience and rebuild their lives after cancer. We also work with patients who may be facing end of life, and need a space to process the associated emotions and grief.

Art Therapy services at Swedish are available in two ways: 

  1. The first way is individual Art Therapy. Individual sessions are about fifty minutes in length and many patients come anywhere from weekly to monthly. The visits are self-directed but when needed, the Art Therapist will help you by suggesting materials to use or a place to start.
  2. The second way that Art Therapy is offered at Swedish, is through our Art & Wellness groups. Groups are 1-2 hours in length, and are designed for patients and family members to drop-in at any time during the group (and stay for as much of the group as they have time for). Supplies and encouragement are provided, and again, no artistic skill or experience is necessary to join us. 

In the Art Therapy offices you will find a large variety of art supplies available, including colored pencils, pens & markers, chalk & oil pastels, air dry clay, acrylic &, water color paints, beads, buttons, fabric, found objects, charcoal, collage images, and a variety of papers. In both individual Art Therapy and group, you can expect to spend some time talking, some time making art, and some time looking at and talking about what you’ve made.

The Art Therapy program at Swedish is graciously funded by donations from our community. To donate or learn more about how you can support our Art Therapy program, please contact the Swedish Foundation: at 206-386-2738 or foundation@swedish.org.

Thank you for viewing the What to Expect in Art Therapy podcast. Please see our information below, and feel free to contact us if you have questions about Swedish’s Art Therapy services or if you would like to schedule an appointment or join a group. 

Photography courtesy of Nathania ten Wolde at  Bella Baby Life Photography.