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Art Therapy, Dance Therapy, Music Therapy, and Imagery

What is art therapy?

Creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provides a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts and increase self-awareness. It also lets them express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness. The art therapist uses pictures, art supplies, and visual symbols, as well as an understanding of behavior, to help patients address their own personal concerns and conflicts.

Art therapists work with patients individually or in groups. The art therapist provides the materials needed to make paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other types of artwork. This type of therapy may help you express feelings about cancer through art. Your art is then used to help you talk about your emotions and concerns. In another form of art therapy, you may view pieces of art, often in photographs. You can then talk with a therapist about what you see.

Can art therapy help people with cancer?

Art therapy is a body-mind therapy. Many experts have seen and documented major benefits among people who have done art therapy, such as improved mood, fewer depression symptoms, and better overall quality of life. Doing art therapy or making art on your own can be an effective form of distraction as well. Thinking about and creating art can help to distract you from pain and anxiety.

Many art therapists believe this type of therapy works, in part, because creating art influences brain wave patterns and the substances released by the brain. It helps people express hidden emotions. It reduces stress, fear, and anxiety. It can also provide a sense of freedom.

How does art therapy work?

Creating art with an art therapist helps you express painful thoughts or memories possibly related to your cancer diagnosis. This may, in turn, help you cope with the diagnosis. In conventional mental health therapy, people talk with a counselor. Talking about traumatic or painful experiences that may be hidden in the subconscious mind is an important part of the healing process. In much the same way, making a drawing or painting of an emotion or event can serve as a tool. It can help the art therapist guide you through the process of dealing with similar concerns.

Are there any possible problems or complications linked to art therapy?

Art therapy is safe and may help people with cancer deal with their emotions. Art therapy, as part of your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive. It should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

What is dance therapy?

Dance therapy uses movement to improve mental and physical well-being. It's a recognized form of complementary therapy used in hospitals and comprehensive clinical cancer centers.

Can dance therapy help people with cancer?

Several studies suggest that dance therapy helps people do the following:

  • Develop positive body image

  • Improve self-concept and self-esteem

  • Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression

  • Decrease isolation, chronic pain, and body tension

  • Increase communication skills

  • Encourage a sense of well-being

For some cancer patients, dance therapy is an effective form of exercise. But it has not been studied enough to know if there are any unique health benefits to cancer patients, or to confirm the effects on prevention of or recovery from illness.

How does dance therapy work?

The physical benefits of dance therapy as exercise are well documented. Experts have shown that physical activity increases special neurotransmitter substances in the brain (endorphins). These create a state of well-being. And total body movement such as dance enhances the functions of other body systems, too. These include circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular systems. Dance therapy can help you stay physically fit and enjoy the pleasure of creating rhythmic motions with your body.

Are there any possible problems or complications linked to dance therapy?

There are no known negative side effects of dance therapy. But dance is a form of exercise. Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. This is especially needed if you have a chronic condition such as arthritis. Your healthcare provider can evaluate whether the physical movements of dance therapy might be harmful to your cardiovascular system, joints, or muscles.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy uses music to promote healing and enhance quality of life. It's a complementary therapy that is used along with other cancer treatments. It helps patients cope mentally and physically with their diagnosis. Music therapy may involve listening to music, making music, singing, and discussing music, along with guided imagery with music.

Can music therapy help people with cancer?

Studies have shown the positive value of music therapy on the body, mind, and spirit of children and adults. Researchers have found that music therapy used along with antiemetic medicines, which relieve nausea and vomiting, in patients getting high-dose chemotherapy can help ease the physical symptoms of nausea and vomiting. When used in combination with pain relievers, music has been found to decrease the overall intensity of the patient's pain. This can sometimes result in a reduced use of pain medicine.

Music can also help with the following:

  • Ease stress, apprehension, and fear

  • Improve mood

  • Lower heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate

  • Ease depression

  • Ease sleeplessness

  • Ease muscle tension and provide relaxation

Music therapists believe that:

  • Rhythm is beneficial. Our muscles, including the heart muscle, synchronize to the beat of music. For example, some classical music approximates the rhythm of the resting heart (70 beats per minute). This music can slow a heart that is beating too fast.

  • Self-expression in music therapy can reveal subconscious thoughts and feelings. It can be therapeutic in the same way psychotherapy has shown to be therapeutic.

  • The creative process of making art whether it's through music, painting, sculpture, or dance can be beneficial.

How does music therapy work?

Music therapy can be incorporated into many different environments. People listen to music alone or in groups. This can be done with trained therapists or without. It can be as simple as someone listening to a CD. Specially selected music can be broadcasted into hospital rooms.

Music therapists design music therapy sessions for a wide variety of needs. Some of the ways music is used as therapy include the following:

  • Music improvisation

  • Receptive music listening

  • Song writing

  • Lyric discussion

  • Imagery and relaxation

  • Performance of music

For example, in a music therapy session that is specially designed to promote self-expression, the therapist might create a musical and emotional environment that encourages you to respond by revealing personal experiences or feelings. The session might have speech and drama as well as music. Or the therapist might use singing and discussions. By playing music with lyrics, the therapist can encourage you to make up words that are then formed into a positive, unique song.

Are there any possible problems or complications linked to music therapy?

Music therapy, as part of your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive. It should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

What is imagery?

Imagery is a form of distraction. It involves mental exercises designed to stimulate the mind to influence the health and well-being of the body. It uses visualization techniques to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also help manage pain, lower blood pressure, and ease some of the side effects of chemotherapy.

Can imagery help people with cancer?

There is no scientific evidence showing that imagery affects cancer cells. Rather, it's a relaxation technique, like meditation, that has other physical and psychological effects on the body. In some cases, imagery has been found to:

  • Ease nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy

  • Ease stress

  • Enhance the immune system

  • Help with weight gain

  • Combat depression

  • Reduce pain

How does imagery work?

There are many different imagery techniques. One popular method is called palming. This involves placing the palms of your hands over your eyes and first imagining a color you associate with anxiety or stress (such as red). You then imagine a color you associate with relaxation or calmness (such as blue). Visualizing a calming color may make you feel relaxed. That in turn may improve your health and sense of well-being.

Another common imagery technique is known as guided imagery. Guided imagery involves visualizing a specific place where you feel safe, calm, and happy. It may be used to relax and reduce stress and anxiety. Or it may be used for a specific goal, like reducing nausea or slowing your heart rate.

Are there any possible problems or complications linked to imagery?

Imagery techniques, as part of your cancer treatment plan, have the potential to be pleasant and productive. But they should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

People seeking relief from symptoms of cancer and its treatment often consider alternative therapies. Don’t be afraid to discuss complementary and alternative treatments with your healthcare providers. They have heard such requests before. Let your healthcare providers know if you are interested in an alternative mode of therapy. When you meet with them, bring a list of questions so you don’t forget what you want to ask. For support, consider bringing a family member or friend to the appointment.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Louise Cunningham RN BSN
  • Marianne Fraser MSN RN
  • Todd Gersten MD