Art therapy

Art therapy helps patients improve emotional health and well-being

Art therapy, a division of UK HealthCare’s Creative Arts Therapies program, allows patients to use artistic activities to help ease the depression and anxiety associated with illness and being in the hospital.

Fran Belvin

Fran Belvin

“Art and mental health therapy are intertwined,” said Fran Belvin, MA, ATR-BC, LPAT, a licensed art therapist serving patients at UK Markey Cancer Center and Eastern State Hospital. “Some people who have been in the hospital for a while feel depressed and isolated. Art therapy is about making a connection and getting them engaged in something that instills hope.”

A patient doesn’t have to be a consummate painter or sketch artist to benefit from art therapy services.

“It can be something as simple as using art materials to draw with lines, colors and shapes how the patient is feeling that day – an abstract drawing to depict emotions and what’s on their mind,” Belvin said. “Then we talk about what the different shapes and colors mean to them.”

Affirmations representing a patient’s current emotional needs are also helpful.

“If you’re anxious, you might use an affirmation that says, ‘I am calm and serene,’” Belvin explained. “By using that affirmation as a basis for a drawing or a collage, the patient is embodying that positive statement, which brings hope. By choosing concrete images [for a collage], people are giving themselves touchstones; they’re actually experiencing the feeling of calm while making their artwork.”

Art therapy

With cancer patients at Markey, Belvin has started a project that she hopes to put on public display in the future. When patients undergo radiation for cancer of the head or neck, they’re required to wear a white mesh mask from their head to their upper chest. The mask ensures that the patient remains still and the radiation is delivered to the appropriate area.

“It’s a confining and uncomfortable treatment, and most people aren’t happy about the radiation mask,” Belvin said. “By taking the mask and turning it into an art project, people can reclaim the whole process of their treatment and feel less victimized by the mask.”

It can be easy to misconstrue art therapy as simply handing out coloring books to provide some distraction and help pass the time. However, it is much more than that, Belvin said.

“Art therapy is not simply an activity to keep you busy or distracted, although it can be beneficial to have something else to think about other than treatment and illness,” she explained. “It’s a way for people to explore and find meaning in their illness. I think that’s the way people get over anything traumatic: to look for something that changed them in a way that they welcome. Art therapy helps people find a way to explore and express those things.”

Next steps:

  • Learn more about UK Integrative Medicine & Health, a program that focuses on the treating the whole patient using all appropriate therapies, healthcare expertise and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
  • UK Arts in HealthCare enhances the healing atmosphere of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital through artwork and installations by local and international artists. Learn more.