Art Therapy

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 safe space to explore 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?

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, Zandi Salstrom, with questions or to schedule a visit: 206-215-6178.

In the video below, former Art Therapist Nicole Stiver explains what art therapy is and what to expect in an appointment.

Read the transcript

Benefits of Art Therapy

Art Therapy is useful as a complementary therapy to help people with cancer deal with their emotions. 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
  • Build positive coping skills and resiliency 

What to Expect

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 and Edmonds locations.

First Hill Campus:

Individual Art Therapy

Mondays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays, 8:30am-3:30pm
Sessions are 50 minutes, and involve art-making and counseling with Art Therapist, Zandi Salstrom. Session 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

Tuesdays 9:00am-3:00pm. Sessions are 50 minutes, and involve art-making and counseling with Art Therapist, Bonnie Walchuk. Session are by appointment only.

Art & Wellness Group 

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

Contact the Art Therapy program at SCI:

Zandi Salstrom (General questions and scheduling for First Hill): 206.215.6178

Bonnie Walchuk (Scheduling for Edmonds): 425.640.4984

For more information about art therapy education and credentialing, please visit the Art Therapy Credentials board at

What to Expect in Art Therapy - Video Transcript

Hello. My name is Nicole Stiver and I'm the Art Therapist here at the Swedish Cancer Institute. In this podcast I will explain what art therapy is and is not, the benefits of art therapy, what to expect during a typical visit, and information for scheduling an appointment.

First, however, I would like to start by acknowledging a common reaction to art therapy. Many people are afraid to try making art. They think they're not artistic or creative enough. This is a normal reaction. Most people haven't made art since elementary school. I want to assure you that you do not need art skills or confidence to try art therapy. Anyone can do art therapy. Art therapy is about the process of art making rather than the project itself. Always remember there is no wrong way to make art.

Let's talk more about what art therapy is and is not. Art therapy is a healing modality intended to bring together physical emotional and spiritual care by facilitating creative ways for patients to respond to their cancer experience. Art therapy is not an instructional art class. In other words, I don't teach you how to make art. I will help you in becoming familiar with different types of art media. I will encourage you to play and experiment with art supplies. In art therapy I'm not here to judge or interpret your artwork. I will invite you to view your art and find your own meaning about what you've created.

Remember, art therapy is therapy. It's a time for you to use art to explore the variety of issues that may come up with illness. Art making itself is therapeutic. It transcends words and triggers different parts of the brain and subconcious. when you make art, you may find that you are able to reach a new depth of understanding about yourself and your experiences.

People decide to use art therapy for many different reasons. Art therapy provides outlets for feelings. Art therapy is a wonderful way to learn and practice positive coping skills. A recent study found that art therapy reduced symptoms related to pain and anxiety in patients with cancer.

Art therapy increases self-awareness and self-discovery. When you make art you can explore and examine thoughts or emotions that may be difficult to put into words. Many people find that art making decreases stress and increases relaxation. I've heard some people say they're simply relieved to get their worries out of their head and onto paper where they can sort them out or use art to transform them.

During illness many parts of life may feel out of control. Making art is one way to regain the sense of control.

Art therapy sessions are fifty minutes in length and many patients come weekly. I see people who have just been diagnosed or are in cancer treatment. I also see people who have completed treatments and they're looking for a place to process their experience and rebuild their life after cancer. The visits are self-directed but when needed I will help you by suggesting materials to use or a place to start.

In my office you will find a large variety of art supplies available, including colored pencils, pens and markers, chalk pastels, oil pastels, polymer clay acrylic paint, water color paint beads, buttons, fabric, found objects, charcoal, collage images, and a variety of paper. In a typical session you can expect to spend some time talking, some time making art, and some time looking at what you have made.

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