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.

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

Egg Bombs!

Everyone knows what it is like to feel frustrated and sometimes it is really hard to figure out a healthy way to express it! For our patients, feelings of frustration can arise when they have to miss school to come to the hospital, fast before a procedure, take medication that tastes yucky or have a shot that is painful.  Art therapist can help kids vent some of their frustrations by encouraging them to create and throw “egg bombs”.

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The idea behind the egg bomb is that the individual allows the egg to represent the thing that he or she is frustrated about.  The egg is then filled with an assortment of things- glitter, sand, flour, paint, feathers, googly eyes, beads. The more variety the better, as it allows the creator to choose items that symbolize the frustration.  It can be helpful to provide strips of paper so that the frustration can be written down, rolled up and placed inside the egg. The outside of the egg can also be decorated to reflect the frustration.

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Once the egg bombs have been created the next step is to throw them! When we do this at the hospital we lay out a large piece of butcher paper on the floor- outside if the weather is nice- so that the egg bombs can explode onto the paper. It is helpful to encourage the egg- bomber to reflect on the frustration represented by each egg before it is thrown. As the contents of the eggs splatter onto the paper a piece of artwork is created. Depending on the needs of the individual this resulting artwork can be destroyed or altered to make something else. 

Egg bombs are a great way to release energy, emotion and get physical with art materials. This process is especially important in our medical setting as it allows the child to feel empowered and in control. Getting a little messy and free with art can also provide a nice contrast to the sterile and more rigid environment of the hospital setting.

How- to prepare the eggs:

  • Use a small, serrated knife to create an opening in the top and bottom of each egg (a chopstick can also be helpful to poke small holes in the shell).
  • Drain out the inside of the eggs.
  • Once drained, run cold water through the eggs to get both the inside and outside clean.
  • Arrange the eggs in a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Once the oven has reached temperature, turn it off and place the eggs inside the oven- leaving them in there until the oven has cooled down. This will give allow the eggs to fully dry.
  • *When preparing eggs that will be used in a medical setting we always make sure that the eggs are really clean by wiping them down with hospital disinfectant wipes before use. 
  • Once the eggs are clean, tape up one of the holes so that the filling placed inside the egg will not fall out.

Happy egg bombing!

Art for Relaxation

In the world of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology the kids and their families have to spend a considerable amount of time in the hospital. Sometimes a visit entails a blood draw, an infusion, a scan and at times even surgery. Understandably, the hospital can become a place associated with fear and worry. Fortunately, art can provide a respite from this anxiety.  One very simple way to use art to relieve stress is to color a mandala.

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle and these ancient and lovely designs have been the foundation for prayer and meditation throughout Asia for centuries. Even in the West the mandala is found in the stain glass rose windows of churches. The power of the mandala lies with its circular shape, which is believed to be centering and able to produce a calming effect.

Recent studies conducted within the field of art therapy have supported these ancient notions- showing a link between coloring a mandala and the reduction of stress (Van der Vennet & Serice, 2012; Schrade, Tronsky & Kaiser, 2011; Henderson & Rosen, 2007; Curry & Kasser, 2005). In art therapy colors, lines and shapes drawn within the circle can be used to represent feelings. The circle can then, metaphorically, become a container into which these emotions can be safely placed.

As an art therapist, I often suggest coloring a mandala to patients and parents who appear to be struggling with the anticipation of a procedure or are feeling overwhelmed by the hospital experience. Mandalas are also a great way to engage teenage patients who might feel venerable or intimidated, but want to engage in the art making process.

You may want to give it a try! To get started you can draw a large circle on a paper (tracing the edge of a bowl is helpful) and create your own design. You can also find some free mandala coloring templates at: http://www.coloring-book.info/coloring/coloring_page.php?id=209

 

Footnotes

Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85.

Henderson, P., & Rosen, D. (2007). Empirical study on the healing nature of mandalas. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(3), 148-154.

Schrade, C., Tronsky, L., & Kaiser, D. H. (2011). Physiological effects of mandala making in adults with intellectual disability. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38(2), 109-113.

Van der Vennet, R. , & Serice, S. (2012). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? A replication study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 87-92.