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Brief Art Intervention Benefits Caregivers of Cancer Patients

Oncology professionals and family caregivers of cancer patients who engage in brief art-making interventions may experience reduced levels of stress, anxiety and burnout and an increase in positive emotions, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing.

“Families of cancer patients experience emotional trauma around the diagnosis, stress of treatment, financial concern, among others,” said lead author of the study, Girija Kaimal, EdD, an assistant professor from Drexel University’s Creative Art Therapies department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

“While addressing their needs understandably comes second to the patient’s needs, the stressors families experience often go unaddressed.”

Kaimal also added that oncology professionals such as nurses, therapists and physicians experience their own set of negative effects, like compassion fatigue and not taking time for self-care. This can lead to avoidance of empathetic care, mistakes in patient care, high turnover, health problems and burnout.

Addressing the psychosocial needs of the caregivers and oncology professionals also helps to improve the patient’s treatment compliance and outcomes.

The study compared two arts-based approaches for caregivers: single sessions of coloring and open-studio art therapy.

A total of 34 caregivers — 25 healthcare professionals and nine family caregivers — were randomly assigned to 45 minutes of an independent, open-studio art therapy or an active-control coloring session, with all sessions run by trained art therapists.

In the open-studio art session, participants were offered a variety of materials while an art therapist facilitated the session, offering guidance and interacting with everyone. In the last five minutes, the therapist addressed the participants’ artwork, giving them an opportunity to discuss their work and reflect on the process.

In the coloring session, participants chose a coloring sheet and were given markers and coloring pencils. The art therapist did not interact with the participants while they colored.

Before and after each session, participants completed surveys to express their positive and negative feelings, such as stress and anxiety. After both the art therapy and coloring sessions, participants expressed increases in positive affect (emotions), pleasure and enjoyment and decreases in negative affect, anxiety, perceived stress, and burnout.

Many expressed a desire to continue to make art in the future, since taking time out of their busy schedules to engage in art helped them to focus on something other than their caregiving.

The findings suggest that even brief art-making interventions can be beneficial for stressed caregivers of cancer patients. The study’s senior author, William Levin, MD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn, also points out that creative activities like art-making are mindful practices, allowing patients and caregivers to stay in the moment, which by definition can free them from the stress that cancer brings.

“These results show the importance of treating the mind as well as the body of cancer patients, and it is further evidence that we’re on the right track as we continue our push toward a more holistic approach to cancer therapies,” Levin said.

Penn recently opened a dedicated multi-purpose room to expand its ability to offer these kinds of interventions to patients, something the study’s authors point out is now further supported by science.

“We recommend that oncology units have similar, dedicated studio spaces with therapeutic support and different forms of art-making available to meet individual caregiver needs,” said Kaimal.

Source: Drexel University

Brief Art Intervention Benefits Caregivers of Cancer Patients

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Brief Art Intervention Benefits Caregivers of Cancer Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Nov 2019 (Originally: 8 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Nov 2019
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