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!”

tape blog photo 4

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.

From Kidney to Bird: A Sibling’s Art Experience

As school approaches, I find myself reflecting back on the summer and all the patients and their siblings who joined us at the art table each day.  Summer is sometimes the only time when siblings are able to come along to their brother or sister’s medical appointments and many siblings look forward to the opportunity to make art.

Last week a patient who had undergone surgery to have one of her kidneys removed came to the clinic for a check- up. She brought her brother with her and they both spent the morning playing with model magic (a kind of squishy dough similar to play-dough). Each time the sister went back for her medical treatment her brother would start to mold and color his model magic to resemble various body parts.

Coloring the Model Magic

Coloring the Model Magic

At first the model magic was colored and flatted to look like skin, which he playfully flopped onto his arm. A few minutes later the skin was colored and balled up to resemble a little heart. The little ball was then colored blue, resulting in a grayish blob he decided looked like a liver. After more marker was added the model magic started to take on the form of a little pink bean.  He spent a while perfecting the tiny form until he finally identified it as a kidney. As he held the kidney in his hands he talked about how worried he was about his sister and how scared he felt when she had undergone surgery.  He talked about how he felt different from his sister because he didn’t have anything wrong with his body.

Creating the kidney

Creating the kidney

After sharing his feelings he then decided that he wanted to make a gift for his sister and he morphed the little kidney into a bird.

bird for his sister

bird for his sister

This is a good example of why sibling participation in art therapy is so important. At the art table siblings are given a voice to express their own feelings, concerns and/or misconceptions of their brother or sister’s medical condition.  Being able to make a gift or special token also provides siblings with a meaningful way to contribute to their sibling’s recovery process.

Summer Mosaic Project

As part of a summer project, two local high school students have been working hard with our kids over the last few weeks on a mosaic project. The finished work will be displayed (location to be announced) with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of art therapy. Both kids and parents have helped out this week, arranging hundreds of little glass tiles to create this beautiful piece of art. Kids were also invited to use clay to make their own mosaic tiles featuring whatever they wanted to include in the landscape. Their creations include flowers, leaping dolphins, a black widow spider, a leprechaun–and a “flying potato” (contributed by a very creative two year old!).

Here are some pictures of the work in progress: 

Our project leaders, Mave and Rachel

Our project leaders, Maeve and Rachel

Coming up with the idea

The landscape

The landscape

Drawing ideas

Clay objects created by the kids

Close up of clay creations

Close up of clay creations

Laying out the mosiac tiles

Laying out the mosaic tiles

Watch Out for the T-Rex!!!

Today one of our young patients came in with a friend and the two of them spent the morning using the relaxation mats in our clinic to build an elaborate house complete with passageways, doors and a roof. For the patient, having his own space in the house that had a roof over it was particularly important. When the roof was on his house he didn’t want anyone to be able to see him. His mom and I worked to fulfill his need only to find moments later a “strong wind” had come through and knocked the house down! The strong wind quickly developed into a T-Rex that was determined to destroy everything in its path. The two kids giggled and jumped up and down in delight as they tumbled over the large mats. Once the T-Rex was gone we worked to rebuild the house until… (you guessed it!) another T-Rex came along to knock the whole thing down again!

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The theme of creation and destruction is one that we sometimes see with kids. As adults, we usually view creation as a linear process- we come up with an idea, work to create it and hope that in the process and after it is completed that it doesn’t fall apart. For some kids however, the creation process can be less linear and more circular with equal joy and importance on the creation as well as the destruction of the artwork. At times destroying something can be far more therapeutic than making it!

In this patient’s case, the creation of a place where he could hide and not be seen by anyone made him feel safe and protected, while the later destruction of the house allowed him to feel more in control and powerful. The process seemed to validate both of these feelings and help relieve his anxiety about the medical care he received today.

Kari Kant and Tracy’s Kids

A couple weeks ago American flags created by patients from the DC and Virginia Tracy’s Kids locations were featured in an art exhibit along side the work of artist, Kari Kant. The art show was a lot of fun and we were so happy for the opportunity to share the kids’ artwork!  Thank you again to Kari Kant and to everyone who came out to show their support!

Here are some pictures from the show: 

Tracy's Kids team with Kari Kant and Sabra Rogers

Tracy’s Kids team with Kari Kant and Sabra Rogers

Gretchen and Jess in front of the found object flag created at CCBD of Northern VA.

Gretchen and Jess in front of the found object flag created at CCBD of Northern VA.

Tracy and Kate in front of the syringe painted flag created at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.

Tracy and Kate in front of the syringe painted flag created at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.

String quartet

String quartet

 

Art Therapy in The Washington Post!

One of the things that we try to do regularly at our clinic at Georgetown Hospital is provide a creative outlet for our medical and psychosocial team.  In an article published today in the Health & Science section of The Washington Post our clinical nurse manager, Jan Powers, gave a wonderful description of why making art can be so helpful during difficult times.  In this particular workshop we invited staff to get together to make art using clay.

“There was a lot of pounding and kneading, and while we made our pots or whatever, people started to talk. When your hands are occupied and you’re not in the spotlight, it’s easier to say things like ‘I feel really bad’ or ‘This child touched my heart and I’m grieving.’ It gives staff a chance to create out of something that is hurtful and painful.”

This is a great example of how the creative process and art therapists can play a very important role in supporting the other members of the clinical team.

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 To read the entire Washington Post article about how hospitals are using the creative arts to combat compassion fatigue follow the link:     

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-nurses-at-risk-of-compassion-fatigue-hospitals-try-to-ease-their-stress/2013/06/07/b92b9e86-97e3-11e2-97cd-3d8c1afe4f0f_story.html

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!

DEPARTMENT of PEDIATRICS

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

 GRAND ROUNDS

 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, www.tracyskids.org, 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:

www.georgetownpeds.org

3800 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

 

Pinch Pots

Each year in October we invite the Georgetown nurses to create pinch pots during one of their monthly administrative meetings. Many nurses come to the meeting excited by the opportunity to create art.

 

Pinch pots are very simple and are created using a technique believed to be 12, 000 years old- one of the first ways that people formed clay objects. The repetitive pinching of the pot and its circular shape can make the creation process very calming.

For our nurses, the creation process stirred up conversation, provided a space for relaxation and allowed for the creation of beautiful pottery!

Cow Story

I want to share a particular picture that a little boy did with me because it is about the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which is observed this year on October 26-29. According to CNN, “Eid al-Adha commemorates when God appeared to Abraham — known as Ibrahim to Muslims — in a dream and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience. As Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and gave him a sheep to kill in place of his son. A version of the story also appears in the Torah and in the Bible’s Old Testament.” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/world/eid-5-things/index.html?npt=NP1)

 

Of course I had heard the story of Abraham and Isaac many times, but I wasn’t thinking about it when a little guy in the clinic began enthusiastically drawing a picture. It started with a cow, and evolved into a picture telling the story of sacrificing a cow–part of his family’s tradition that he had witnessed when visiting relatives back home. After he finished the picture I asked him to tell me about it, and he told the story of the sacrifice on Eid, and pointed out the extended family members gathered for the celebration. The United States is a melting pot, and Washington, DC is an international city. It is really a delight for me to learn about another culture through the eyes of a small boy. Even though he has been through so much in his treatment and recovery, he is full of curiosity and enthusiasm, and I love that he wanted to share this story with me.

Kailee’s Run–Thank-you Kailee!

 Every Spring since 2008, the Ashburn, VA community has come together to honor Kailee Vance, a young cancer patient who has inspired a whole community. Kailee’s Run, which is held in the neighborhood around Newton-Lee Elementary School, combines a 5K Fun Run and a 2-mile walk.

 As the Kailee’s Run website says: “The race will be held in Kailee’s honor, with all race proceeds going to Tracy’s Kids (www.tracyskids.org), an organization that helped Kailee through her tough times at Georgetown Hospital.”

 Kailee continues to be a creative and prolific artist—and she even runs the race herself now that she has finished treatment! She is back at school and doing great, but the other day when she came to the clinic for a checkup she handed me a check to Tracy’s Kids for $5,000 from the 2012 run.

 Thank-you, Kailee—and thank-you to all her friends and family who come together to support the work of Tracy’s Kids.