Archives for April 2013

Time for Fiesta!

Here in San Antonio, there is a unique week-long celebration that only San Antonians REALLY understand.  It’s called Fiesta!  And the name is apt, because every day there are multiple, colorful parties all over the city.

At Methodist Children’s, we are celebrating in our own ways.  First, we decorated the clinic windows with colorful flowers to commemorate the Battle of Flowers parade, which began in the late 19th century with women pushing decorated baby buggies and throwing real colorful flowers at each other in front of the Alamo, and now boasts beautifully decorated floats and a huge crowd every year.   In fact, most school districts in the county take a holiday to commemorate this parade.

fiesta window

We also decorated confetti-filled eggs called cascarones.  The whole aim of making these eggs is to then crack them on the head of some unsuspecting victim.  Of course, our patients and their siblings LOVE to sneak up on their nurses, doctors, and even their art therapist and clobber them with confetti.  It’s a fun way for our kids to be kids and make a HUGE mess in the clinic.


No Fiesta celebration would be complete without paper flowers, so many of the Tracy’s Kids participants made multi-hued blooms out of tissue paper.  These are so simple to make, but really brighten up the hospital rooms.


The families had a great time paying homage to this local holiday.  Many kids can’t participate in the festivities because they involve large crowds, so it was nice to bring a little bit of the party to them!

To learn more about Fiests, visit the official website:

Reaffirming the Good

Continuing through May, there is a wonderful art show in the Lombardi Atrium. It is the work of artist Kristrinah Ayala. She is exhibiting eight wonderful, large watercolor portraits of doctors, nurses, and other people who play a part in her healing process.

Her story is amazing. She was sick as a child and spent a lot of time isolated in the hospital, using paint by numbers and the hidden pictures puzzles in Highlights magazine to keep herself busy. As an adult, she began painting and found that her way of composing paintings was like paint by numbers. Her work is fascinating–recognizable and beautiful and abstract all at once.

When she had to deal with a serious illness again as an adult, she turned to painting as a creative outlet and to express her appreciation to her caregivers. She writes: “My goal is that you, the viewer, see more than just a visual appearance. My hope is that you catch a glimpse of each person’s unique spirit.” Her website is  Ms. Ayala will be on hand at Lombardi on May 18 from 2-4:00 p.m. to talk about her work.

Her show is part of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Arts and Humanities Program.


Shamballa Bracelets

We were treated to a really fun workshop last week by the mom of one of our patients, who also happens to be a very talented jewelry maker!  While caring for her son as he undergoes treatment she became interested in making shamballa bracelets. In addition to making her own jewelry, she enjoys teaching others how to make jewelry and offered to teach our staff how to make these beautiful bracelets. 

Shamballa bracelets are made using various kinds of beads that are tied with hemp cord using special knots originating from macramé. The knotting looks complex, but with a little practice the technique is easy to get the hang of. The bracelets we made in the staff workshop turned out great!


The bracelet’s name, Shamballa, has its origins in Tibetan Buddhism.  “Shamballa” is believed to be a mythical kingdom filled with peace, tranquility and happiness. Similarly, creating these bracelets can be very meditative and peaceful. The repetitive pattern of knotting makes the creation process very calming.

Interestingly, some people make these bracelets with specific gems and stones that are believed to have healing properties or represent an inner personal strength.  Creating a visual reminder of inner strengths or imparting special powers on the bracelet can be particularly helpful to an individual and the family members of someone going through a difficult experience, like cancer treatment.  

As a staff, we are going to be wearing our Shamballa bracelets in support of this patient and his family as they continue on the path towards healing.

Managing Anxiety

When bad things happen, people often experience anxiety. Anxiety is about protecting yourself from something bad that could happen, but it might not.

When kids and families come to the hospital, a very bad thing has already happened, but there is lots we can do to help. Even when they’re getting better, a serious illness can leave people feeling anxious, especially parents and siblings. Even when the bad things happen someplace else, we may still feel on edge. Since we can’t make every possible bad thing go away, it is important to have some tools to manage anxiety.

Working creatively is a great way to cope. When you are immersed in the creative process, your attention is focused on the present moment–it’s what people call the creative flow.  If you get your best ideas in the shower or at the gym or while driving your car, you have experienced “flow.”  Being in the flow lets you take a little vacation from your worries–you feel relaxed, refreshed, more “normal” and able to cope.

Drawing, coloring, working with play-doh or clay, knitting, scrapbooking, playing a musical instrument, gardening , walking, vacuuming–any activity that gets your hands busy and your mind relaxed can help you feel more calm. Even imagining a beautiful, safe, comfortable place can help your mind and body relax. In these anxious days, it is important to connect with the peace and strength within.

The photo below is one of my favorite images of a beautiful, safe, relaxing place. It’s a spot in the mountains full of bebalm and butterflies.  I have also included a drawing I made about that place. Maybe you will find that place relaxing too–but if not, you can probably find another picture that works for you.

Turk's Cap Lilies, Beebalm and Butterflies

Turk’s Cap Lilies, Beebalm and Butterflies

Butterfly and Beebalm

Butterfly and Beebalm

It’s coming together…

Between a busy art room full of patients, siblings and other family members out of school for Spring Break and making our usual visits to inpatient rooms we have been on our toes these past few weeks!  During a few spare moments we have begun to put together pieces of our collaborative canvas project from Creative Arts Therapies Week.  It has been so fun to see how smaller pieces of artwork born of so many different visions can come together to create something entirely new! 

Here is a glimpse of our progress! And we’ll show you the final project very soon… Stay tuned!


Grand Rounds, April 19

 I will be speaking at Georgetown University Hospital’s Grand Rounds on Friday, April 19 at 8:00 a.m. Grand Rounds is a lecture series provided for the whole medical community, and it is a real privilege to be invited to present. I will give a short history of how Tracy’s Kids got started at Georgetown over 20 years ago, and then talk about the theory and practice of the approach that grew into Tracy’s Kids.  Everyone is welcome, so please come if you can!


MedStar Georgetown University Hospital


 April 19, 8:00 a.m.

Lombardi Cancer Center Research Auditorium

Art Therapy in Pediatric Medicine

by Tracy Councill, MA, ATR-BC

Tracy headshot

In 1991, with a grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, Tracy Councill started the Art Therapy Program in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Georgetown University Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center. Medstar Georgetown University Hospital’s core value of “cura personalis” allowed this unique program to grow and flourish, eventually becoming Tracy’s Kids,, a non-profit that serves thousands of young people and their families here at Georgetown and in other centers.

Ms. Councill will provide a short history of the Art Therapy Program, and discuss the theory and practice of art therapy in medicine, emphasizing the role of art therapy in supporting normalization, resilience and coping in patients with chronic life-threatening illnesses.

Ms. Councill’s professional awards include: the Potomac Art Therapy Association Professional Development Award, 2008; the American Art Therapy Association Clinician Award, Children, 2004; the Holly Award for Excellence in Patient Care, 2003, Lombardi Cancer Center; the Lombardi Cancer Center Award, October, 2001; and the Individual award for Excellence in Professional Practice, 2000, Georgetown University Hospital.

Accreditation Statement: The Georgetown University Hospital is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. Designation Statement: The Georgetown University Hospital designates this educational activity for a maximum of 1AMA PRA Category Credit(s)™. Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent to their participation in the activity. For more information on our Department, including educational opportunities, please visit us at:

3800 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007


Making Art Together

Sometimes parents and their children share some very special moments doing art together. As an art therapist, it is a wonderful treat to get to witness a child and parent play with art materials and create something beautiful.

On this occasion, a mother and her young daughter take turns drawing colors and shapes- engaging in a fun, “visual conversation” on the paper.