Art Therapy Decreases Anxiety in Children With Cancer

Creative art therapy was shown to help children with cancer, as it made them feel less anxious.

Creative arts therapy and interventions tended to improve anxiety in children with cancer, according to recent research published in Cancer Nursing.

The researchers analyzed data from 83 pediatric patients with cancer between the ages of 3 and 17 years old: 37.3% had a blood cancer; 24.1% had a solid cancer and 38.6% had a central nervous system cancer. The goal of the study was to compare outcomes of from the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory symptom subscale — which rates symptoms such as pain and hurt, nausea, procedural anxiety, treatment anxiety, worry, cognitive problems, perceived physical appearance and communication — in patients who did not receive creative arts therapy (18 patients) versus those who did (65 patients).

“Art is something that’s so easy and that we all have at our fingertips to use every day,” study author, Jennifer L. Raybin, from Oregon Health & Sciences University, Schools of Nursing and Medicine, Pediatric Hematology Oncology, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, said in an interview with CURE®.

Raybin explained that there were two methods of art used: the first was creative arts therapy, which was guided by a licensed therapist who would also utilize psychotherapy approaches, while the other was creative art interventions, which can be led by anyone. Children could pick what kind of art they wanted to participate in, ranging from music to drawing and clay sculpting.

The study findings showed that children who participated in four or more sessions the creative arts therapy tended to experience a significant decrease in anxiety.

“That makes sense to me — being creative can help with anxiety, especially (during) cancer treatment,” Raybin said, explaining that children are often scared about cancer-related treatments and tests. “Kids are so scared about these procedures, such as getting their port accessed or getting their peripheral IV. (There is) anxiety for kids about what’s to come.”

Art therapy is not only beneficial for children, but adults facing a cancer diagnosis may find it to be beneficial in processing emotions, too.

In fact, in a 2023 interview with CURE®, Calliandra Perry, an art therapist from Henry Ford Health in Detroit said, “There’s a lot of (emotions) that patients go through when they’re being diagnosed, going through treatment, living with cancer or if they hit that survivorship phase,” she said. “It’s something that they can explore in a way that almost acts as mile markers for them.”

READ MORE: Art as Cancer Therapy

Moving forward, Raybin said that she and her team will be leveraging art therapists to make the creative art therapy and intervention model more repeatable in cancer centers across the United States. While having a trained art therapist was amazing, she explained, to make it more scalable, she is hoping that nurses and other clinicians can offer art as a means to decrease patient anxiety.

“Offering art doesn’t have to be fancy or (mean) getting an art therapist, but just some easy art supplies if that’s what the children like doing,” Raybin said. “We know it helps (patients) feel better, and then it will spread throughout other kids (in that treatment) area, too.”

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