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Palliat Support Care. 2010 Mar;8(1):41-8. doi: 10.1017/S1478951509990691. Epub 2010 Feb 18.

Art therapy with cancer patients during chemotherapy sessions: an analysis of the patients' perception of helpfulness.

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Istituto Toscano Tumori, Florence, Italy.



Art therapy has been shown to be helpful to cancer patients at different stages in the course of their illness, especially during isolation for bone marrow transplantation, during radiotherapy treatment, and after treatment. The aim of this study is twofold: (1) to assess whether patients during chemotherapy sessions perceive art therapy as helpful and (2) to outline in which way art therapy is perceived as helpful.


157 cancer patients attending an Oncology Day Hospital (Siena, Italy) met the art therapist during their chemotherapy sessions. The art therapist used the same art therapy technique with each patient during the first encounter ("free collage"); afterward the relationship would evolve in different ways according to the patients' needs. A psychologist interviewed a randomized group of 54 patients after the chemotherapy treatment using a semistructured questionnaire.


Out of the 54 patients, 3 found art therapy "not helpful" ("childish," "just a chat," "not interesting"). The other 51 patients described their art therapy experience as "helpful." From patients' statements, three main groups emerged: (1) art therapy was perceived as generally helpful (e.g., "relaxing," "creative"; 37.3%), (2) art therapy was perceived as helpful because of the dyadic relationship (e.g., "talking about oneself and feeling listened to"; 33.3%), and (3) art therapy was perceived as helpful because of the triadic relationship, patient-image-art therapist (e.g., "expressing emotions and searching for meanings"; 29.4%).


These data have clinical implications, as they show that art therapy may be useful to support patients during the stressful time of chemotherapy treatment. Different patients use it to fulfil their own different needs, whether it is a need to relax (improved mood) or to talk (self-narrative) or to visually express and elaborate emotions (discovering new meanings). Some illustrations of patients using the art therapy process to fulfill these three different needs are provided.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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