Time For a Check Up!

Play therapy and art therapy often go hand-in-hand, especially at our clinic.  Many of our younger patients will engage in an art making process that turns into a puppet show and then a song or a dance. Often the play that our patients engage in reflects their experiences in the clinic.  Medical play kits allow patients to become doctors, surgeons and nurses performing everything from check- ups to shots on dolls, siblings, parents and staff.

Medical play also allows patients to be in control of something that is potentially scary. Reenacting a scary shot or procedure can help a child feel more in control of their own medical care.

Recently one of our clinic dads got a check up from two of our youngest doctors. They were very thorough in the exam- blood pressure and temperature were repeatedly checked!

medical play1

medical play2


Sticky Art

Recently, a little girl started to come to our clinic for treatment. Although she is only 3 years old she is very brave when it comes to her medical procedures. The only thing that bothers her is the medical tape, which irritates the skin around her port (a tube for infusing medicine and drawing blood). Her fear of the sticky tape causes her a lot of distress and her parents as well as the medical team have been working hard each visit to reassure her that the tape is not going to hurt her.  Today we had an opportunity to make art about this fear when she exclaimed, “I want to make sticky art”!

With an array of colorful tape, stickers, glue dots and band-aids at hand this little girl set to work creating a flower garden. As she worked, the sticky materials stuck to her fingers and she talked about what it felt like to remove something that was stuck to her. With a sense of achievement, she peeled the band-aids off her fingers and stuck them to the paper.  


Using sticky art materials and medical supplies to create her flower garden helped this little girl express her fear about the tape around her port.  Being in control of how much tape and how many band-aids she placed on her paper allowed for her to gain power over something scary. This is a good example of how art therapy can help address the fears that can come from some of the medical procedures our kids have to endure and how the art making process can help to empower them.

Just Kidding Around

Sometimes there’s a fine line between art-making and play-acting. The art-making process can move in and out of pretend play, and sometimes art products turn into toys. In these moments, the art therapist, advanced degree and all, becomes an actor in the play. She may find herself sporting yarn headgear and a marker-drawn mustache to play the villain, as in the picture below. There is an element of trust here—I could have said no to the headgear and the marker mustache, but I said yes because I trusted both the patient and myself to be playful but not let things get out of hand.

Scary faces

Scary faces

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

Another recent example of the transformation from art to play is the story of the fish friends. At the art therapy conference this summer I learned how to make a printed, painted and sewn fish. When I taught the process to one of our patients and his mom we ended up with two fish friends who played all day.  His fish and mine swam and rested, fought off snakes, destroyed and rebuilt an entire imaginary town—working together to get  a frightened five-year old through a long day of chemo and physical exams.

Fish Friends

Fish Friends

Tools of the Trade

As Tracy’s Kids art therapists, we are lucky enough to be able to offer the kids a wide array of art supplies every day. In addition to these hand-selected fun and colorful tools, as medical professionals we also have access to a whole other world of resources – medical supplies! Kids love nothing more than to blow up latex gloves and make puppets, or throw rolls of exam table paper on the walls for a mural, or squirt paint onto paper with a new syringe. The novelty of using these supplies always gets the kids excited, but it also gives them the opportunity to interact with the medical environment in a positive way.