Last week I attended a workshop sponsored by a local pain support group. The session was led by an art therapist who works primarily in the pediatric hematology/oncology division of a cancer center. Although Tracy’s expertise lies in helping kids cope with their illnesses, she came to discuss the benefits of art therapy on pain management.
At the beginning of the session, Tracy pulled out large black boards on which she had mounted artwork created by children who were inpatients of various medical facilities. The name and age of a child was written below each painting, with a brief statement reflecting the particular child’s feelings mounted below their piece of art. Tracy explained the medical challenges facing each child, some of whom were dealing with life-threatening illness.
Each drawing was a compelling testament to the resilience of these children, and a manifestation of their fear, anxiety, isolation, solitude or pain. But, more than anything, the artworks – and Tracy’s accompanying stories – illustrated just how meaningful and therapeutic the creative process can be to people coping with illness and injury.
Then, it was our turn to be artists. We were each given sheets of black and white paper, on which we were to draw a figure; that would be our worry doll, into which we could transfer all our pains and worries. Then, we were asked to imagine elements we could add that would reflect the strength and support we could call upon (or needed) for healing and shielding us from our pain.
The colors burst forth, haltingly at first, but then with more gusto. The resulting images illustrated a wide spectrum of the participants’ physical challenges and pain – but scattered throughout were also hints of humor, peace, balance and hope. It was amazing to observe how the mere doing of art infused the room with a positive energy and helped us all focus on something other than pain.
With a few minutes left before the session wrapped up, Tracy suggested we try some silk art. After a brief demonstration, all the participants eagerly picked up materials – little frames with silk stretched across, Chinese paintbrushes, cork pieces, paint, crayons and water – and we promptly got to work.
Upon completion of the workshop, many of us concluded that the time had passed so quickly when so fully immersed in an artistic endeavor, and that – amazingly! – our pain had temporarily subsided. We agreed that being so fully engaged in the creative process allowed us to refocus our energies, find a positive distraction from our own pain, and enjoy the time spent making art.
Double-Amen to the power of art!