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Creative Therapies for Cancer Patients

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma, with subsequent treatment, side effects, and all the complications that come with this terrible cancer, can have a devastating impact on all areas of a person’s life. From emotional and social health to feeling like you have lost control over your life and struggling with financial issues, if you are living with mesothelioma, you are facing challenges that go well beyond the physical.

While most treatment for cancer is focused on slowing the progression of the disease or curing it, patients also benefit greatly from alternative therapies that address their other needs. Therapists trained to work with patients using art, dance, music, and even theater can help provide an outlet for creative expression, lift anxiety, restore a greater sense of control, and just make life more enjoyable again.

About Creative and Expressive Therapies

Therapists are trained professionals who work with patients that have a variety of goals and needs. They may work with developmentally disabled adults, patients with mood disorders, children with behavioral challenges, or patients struggling with mental health because of chronic illnesses, among many other types of patients. They may specialize in a certain type of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy or practice various types.

One kind of specialty that some therapists train for are called creative arts or expressive therapies. These include using art, music and sounds, movement and dance, poetry and literature, and drama to help people reach their goals and heal. What they all have in common is the inclusion of some type of creative art that allows patients to express themselves through creating and experiencing art.

These types of therapies can be used alongside more traditional therapies or as stand-alone therapies. They can be used to help patients meet a number of goals. Some examples of goals that cancer patients may have when seeking creative therapies include:

  • Expressing the difficult emotions that arise from living with cancer.
  • Regaining a sense of control when everything else seems out of control.
  • Relieving fear and anxiety.
  • Improving depression symptoms.
  • Getting support from other cancer patients.
  • Managing stress.

Art Therapy

Art therapy is an expressive therapy that uses the creation of art and the artistic process, as well as art pieces, to address individual goals, to enhance expression, and to address a patient’s specific needs and goals. As with other types of creative therapies, there are no pre-requisites and no need to have any knowledge of art or any talent for it to participate in art therapy. Sessions are usually done on a one-on-one basis, but may also include group sessions.

An art therapist uses a variety of strategies depending on the needs of each patient. These may include discussing goals, feelings, and behaviors, creating art, discussing the art as it is created, and talking about the art after it has been created. The patient may create something alone and in silence, or may work with the therapist, and sometimes they discuss the art and what it means as the patient creates it. Art therapy has been proven to help cancer patients feel more relaxed and less depressed, and even to reduce physical pain.

Dance and Movement Therapy

Dance therapy and movement therapy are more physical types of therapy that aim to combine the mind and the body in a healing process. As with art therapy, what happens can vary depending on a patient’s needs and sessions may be individual or done in groups. For cancer patients this type of therapy has the added benefit of helping with physical fitness and wellness and improving emotional health.

Many different types of patients have been able to see benefits from engaging in dance and movement therapy, including cancer patients. Benefits that patients may get include improvement in mobility after surgery, decreased depression and anxiety, relief for physical pain, added social support in group session, and overall improvement in quality of life.

Sound and Music Therapy

Sound can be used in two different types of therapy: sound therapy, also known as sound energy therapy, and music therapy. Music therapy is much like the other creative therapies in that it uses the creative process of making or listening to music to help patients express themselves and meet goals. Sound therapy uses the energy from particular frequencies to help patients heal and experience relaxation.

Sound energy therapy has not been researched extensively, but there is some evidence that it can promote relaxation and reduce stress. Music therapy provides many similar benefits to other creative therapies: pain relief, elevation in mood, and reductions in anxiety, stress, and fear. Music therapy can also promote physical wellness and improve mobility because it encourages patients to move more.

Drama Therapy

Practitioners of drama therapy use acting, the theater, play, improvisation, movement, and role playing to engage patients in a healing process. This is a type of creative therapy that is most often conducted in groups, and that is beneficial for patients who need more social support. Patients in drama therapy have the chance to explore emotions through characters, to express themselves creatively, to engage with others, and to move more.

Benefits of drama therapy include reduction in fear, anxiety, and stress, improvements in socializing and getting support, physical benefits, such as pain relief and greater mobility, and even just to have fun and to play, which by itself is powerful for healing. As with other creative therapies, patients do not have to have any experience with theater to participate in drama therapy.

Writing Therapy

Writing therapy uses guided and free expressive writing to allow patients to explore difficult experiences and feelings. It can be used during a more traditional therapy session, in a group setting, or in a medical facility for specific groups of patients, like mesothelioma patients. The act of writing therapeutically is proving to be powerful, not just for mental health, but also for physical health.

Studies have shown that writing as therapy can improve cancer patients’ overall wellness, both emotional and physical. Other studies have shown that people with physical and chronic illnesses see actual physical benefits from therapeutic writing, including boosts in immune system activity. Cancer patients and others can also get other benefits from writing therapy, including easier expression and better communication, reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, and a better ability to cope with traumatic and stressful events.

Each type of creative therapy has benefits for patients who participate, and many of those benefits are great for people struggling with the challenges of having mesothelioma. From getting an outlet to express difficult emotions to exploring deeper feelings through creative arts to socializing with and engaging others who are experiencing similar challenges, creative therapies offer so many positive benefits.

If you are interested in trying a creative therapy, talk to your medical team for a referral or look for a trained therapist licensed by a professional association, like the American Dance Therapy Association. If you get involved in one of these types of therapies and really give in to the process, you can expect to see great benefits.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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