Dream Traps

Over the course of treatment some of our young patients have nightmares, which are often related to their treatment experiences. One little girl came into the clinic upset about a nightmare she had had the night before. During her medical exam she told her parents and the treatment team about her nightmare and how it continued to scare her. As art therapists often do with kids who have nightmares, she was encouraged her to draw the dream. Once she drew it we discussed ways that we could get rid of the dream picture (by throwing it out, crumpling it into a ball, etc). This allows the child to externalize their experience and literally get rid of a scary thing.

However, once the patient had drawn the nightmare she decided that instead of throwing it away a better way to deal with it was to trap it in a dream trap. Using colored paper and LOTS of tape, we assembled an elaborately constructed trap. The trap was so complex in design that once it was complete the little girl, looking triumphant, confidently said, “no bad dream is getting out of here!”

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Several weeks later this patient returned to the clinic in need of a new dream trap because the one she made last time “was completely full”. So we got to work on a new, even more elaborate and colorful dream trap. This little girl even inspired other patients at the art table to create their own dream traps as well.

Puppet Friends

Young children especially love mixed media work. Exploring shape and texture, and processes such as gluing, rolling, taping, and all different ways of putting things together is fascinating for the preschool set. Yesterday at the art table I had two three-year olds and a four-year old working together for much of the morning.

At one point I got out a box of 3-D things to glue on paper–colored macaroni, popsicle sticks and little wooden disks. One of the kids began drawing faces on the wooden disks–really charming first-faces. She named the parts as she drew them–eyes, nose, mouth (a silly mouth!), ears, hair–as young children often do. I started making a face on a disk too, and soon we were gluing the faces onto popsicle sticks and having all kinds of great little plays with our puppet friends.

The young artists loved that they got to use the popsicle sticks to dig lots of glue from the glue stick–and then we had to put masking tape over the whole thing to get it to stay together until it dried. (Waiting for the glue to dry was out of the question!)Using tape and glue makes a little person feel very grown up.

Friend Puppets Hide and Seek Puppets Setting up Puppets

I hope you will enjoy these pictures of our puppet friends. The one where you can’t see the faces is the puppets playing hide-and-seek–by putting an extra wooden disk over their faces.

Halloween at the Hospital

We wanted to share with you the photos we took today of all the GUH Pediatric Oncology team in their fairy and princess costumes. We also included some pictures of the hospital’s Halloween Parade. If you haven’t had a good laugh yet today, take a look!FairiesOffice Shot 2Office FairiesOffice Fairies 2NursesKing JuanHelkhaSimone and familySpiderman   Rasha and the gang Minnie Maya and Mom Maya and Fairies Little Fairy Lemar and fairies In motion IMG_8434  Hallway Dog Dino and mom Trick or Treat Superman

Scurrying Fairy

Tulle is Cool

Each year the clinic team at Georgetown dresses up together for Halloween- last year we were Washington Nationals baseball players, the year before that we were pirates. A few weeks ago one of our nurses excitedly suggested that this year the team dress up as fairies and princesses, which we all agreed would be a lot of fun!

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Throughout October we have been busy preparing our costumes, which involve crafting fluffy tutus of tulle.  We’ve had a great time making tutus for the nurses, social workers, art therapists and techs—and some real princesses (our patients)—as well!

Finding small pockets of time in the late afternoon for the staff to get together and work on our costumes was a fun way to de-stress and share in a creative process with one another. Some of our staff excitedly created elaborate costumes of tulle fashioned after famous fairies. Others created their own, unique characters.  Some even made tulle accessories, including headbands, capes, wings and wrist cuffs!

Crafting our tutus

Crafting our tutus

The king making his scepter

The king making his scepter

 Tulle tutus are pretty simple to make, which made for a great group project. We used tutorial blogs online to gather inspiration and get some ideas before starting. Here is a tutorial that was especially helpful:

http://www.feelslikehomeblog.com/2009/06/how-to-make-a-tutu-a-tutorial/

Piles of candy colored tutus are now all over the clinic and we can’t wait to wear them this Thursday!  Stay tuned for more pictures!

The tutus!

The tutus!

Painting Brothers

One of the most fun things we see at the clinic is young children just beginning to explore art. The other day a young patient and his little brother came to the clinic and took over both sides of the double easel. They were excited to try out different color combinations– naming each new color they had made.Painting Little Brother

This is the part of art therapy that intersects with art education–kids need to play around with color and paint to help them understand visual language. But at the cancer clinic there’s another layer of meaning–kids who come here have to deal with lots of scary and stressful stuff–but working in the open studio adds a therapeutic balance. Happy, normal immersion in the creative process makes cancer treatment less scary, and the trust we build with the kids through that process lets us help the kids through lots of hard times. When they’ve had a hard day or they’re worried about something, paint and play-doh embody their sadness and fear and the art therapists receive it. It’s  a gentle, normalizing, fluid process, moving from education to self-expression to catharsis according to the clients’ needs–and it’s all art therapy.

Pinch Pots

On Tuesday we led a lunchtime “art-break” for the inpatient hospital nurses and support staff. Over the lunch hour, about 16 staff members joined for a few minutes at a time to create a clay pot and enjoy a few minutes of quiet and creativity amidst their busy workdays. These highly skilled medical professionals loved the process of creating  simple containers with their hands.

Potmaking 2Star potNurses pots 2Heart pot

Sponsored by Tracy’s Kids and the GUH Department of Pastoral Care, the workshop included pizza for lunch as well. The pots will be used at the upcoming Pediatric Interfaith Memorial Service to be held November 10 at Georgetown to honor the children who have died in our care. Each family in attendance will receive a pinch pot to take home, crafted by a staff member who cared for their child, filled with a paperwhite flower bulb ready to bloom near the holidays.

Archaeologists believe that the pinch pot was the first type of container people ever made of clay. There are centuries’-old traditions of pinch pots in Native American and Japanese culture, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We love teaching this age-old technique and creating a little space for busy medical professionals to rest,  recharge their batteries, and create a little gift for very dear families.

Chocolate Party!

Last week we had a chocolate party sponsored by the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation! An expert chocolatier volunteered her time to come in and help the kids make tasty creations in milk and dark chocolate. The kids spooned dollops of melted chocolate onto trays and used almond slivers, candy corns, peanuts and cherries to create little faces.

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Some kids ended up covering their own faces in chocolate…

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It was an awesome day and everyone had a great time!

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Improv

I don’t watch a whole lot of tv, but I really, really love Project Runway. It isn’t that I’m all that into fashion, but I love the show because it reminds me of art school. The contestants have to solve an aesthetic and practical creative problem in a limited time, with limited materials—and that’s what you do in art school. You’re given a challenge and you solve it with a work of art. It’s not so different from our work as art therapists—we’re always engaged in creative problem solving.

Project Runway Season 12 Bradon McDonald Episode 12 Photos

Now Thursday’s episode was amazing. It was what they call the Avant Garde Challenge—meaning the clothing they design is supposed to push the envelope and edge into art, not just clothing. The guy who won, Bradon McDonald, created a dress that was truly a sculpture. But what was interesting to me was his process. He spent the whole first day in the workroom making these long noodles out of silk. He had no idea what he was going to do with them, he just had the idea to make them. For a while it looked like maybe he had wasted his time, but he ended up adding them to a soft, billowy form in ivory silk and coming up with a dress that blended spiky lines and poufy shapes into what looked a bit like a walking Cubist painting.

He trusted the creative process and took his time, making what he was inspired to make, pushing through his self-doubt and coming up with something that was truly inspired. In art therapy, that creative process is the most important thing. We work with kids, not professionals, and we’re not in any kind of competition. Sometimes we come up with beautiful products, and sometimes not—but we always try to help the kids we work with trust their own creative process. Last night’s episode of Project Runway was a testament to what we say so often in our work—trust the process!

Happy, Happy Birthday to You!

Sometimes the things that the kids say in the clinic are so funny and cute that it is worth sharing. The priceless musings of our patients function not only as reminders of how delightful and resilient they are, but also as reminders of why the staff here loves the job that we all do.

There are so many examples of how our young patients make the everyday special with their unique view of the world.  A 3 year- old girl who had a really rough time and was admitted to the hospital, woke up the next morning  feeling better and excitedly requested sparkles and ribbon. She spent a long time creating a mixed media masterpiece, humming, singing and even doing an impromptu chicken dance as she worked. When she had finished making art and I was getting ready to leave the room she exclaimed, “Happy, Happy Birthday to you!”  It was neither her birthday nor mine, but she was just so happy that it must have seemed like the right thing to say.

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Creative Destruction

Creation and destruction are two sides of the same creative coin. Part of the empowerment of art therapy comes because the patient is in control of when to create and destroy. Kids with serious medical conditions deal with a lot of experiences that are painful and scary, and anger and the impulse to destroy can be an instinctive response to pain. The destructive side of creation can  be  therapeutic, with the right approach.

One really fun, slightly destructive, and very exciting art project is to create a “volcano” and explode it using the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda. Here are some pictures of two of our guys erupting the volcano that one of them sculpted out of clay– turning a day of chemo into fun and exciting play.

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