Art therapy that helps cancer patients cope with illness

Healing Arts

Ashley Myers-Turner/KPCC

Art Therapist Esther Dreifuss-Kattan helps cancer patients draw and paint to express their feelings graphically. This brings unconscious feelings to the surface and relieves stress about cancer diagnosis and family relationships.

Acrylic paint, brushes and tubs of water crowded the table. A tarp covered the floor for six women ready to start painting and sharing their creations.

This is more than arts and crafts time. This is an art therapy session at Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In art therapy patients draw, paint and sculpt to express their feelings graphically. This brings unconscious feelings to the surface.

Patients talk about the art, creating a safe distance between themselves and their emotions. The art therapist helps with patients to increase awareness, deal with stress, resolve conflicts and increase self-esteem.

Art therapists work in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and independent sessions.

While Art Therapist Esther Dreifuss-Kattan works with cancer patients, the decision came out of her previous experience with the psychiatric community.

“When you’re depressed, or you’re schizophrenic, your world breaks apart,” Dreifuss-Kattan said. “A person confronted with cancer is under life threat too. And so I decided art therapy should work [for cancer patients] and that’s what I want to do.”

Linda, a fallopian tube and ovarian cancer patient, has been in the Simms/Mann Art Therapy group for six years.

After multiple surgeries and nine rounds of chemotherapy over nine years, she said she’s had difficulty looking at her future. Art therapy she has given her a more uplifting outlook on the life she has left.

“Certainly there are times when things are really bad and the colors are darker, but overall, it gives me a lot of joy to come,” Linda said. “The bright colors make me feel good.”

Linda giggled as she described the joy of having many of her pieces framed and hanging up on her wall at home.

“And I’ve even sold one of my pieces which was so exciting,” she said.

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