Art Therapy for Day Oncology Patients

Patients in the St John of God Berwick Hospital day oncology unit now have access to art therapy, thanks to support from the hospital and St John of God Health Care arts and health funding. 

16 Nov 2023

St John of God Berwick Hospital day oncology patients having treatments such as chemotherapy and iron infusions don’t usually have access to other therapies during their day admission. 

However, the recent introduction of art therapy to the unit is bucking the trend.Oncology nurse showing an artwork made during art therapy

Provided by Registered Art Therapist Kathy Bottern, art therapy is helping patients pass time in a meaningful way and provides an opportunity to reflect on, express, and sometimes reframe the significant changes in their lives.  

“Through making art, thoughts and emotions associated with their diagnosis and treatment that are sometimes difficult to verbally express, can be articulated and this generates conversation,” Kathy said.

Due to the limited amount of space, and patients often only having one hand available to use while receiving treatment, the activities on offer are small in scale. Patients have made bookmarks and contributed to a collaborative piece, called 7 X Sevens. 

“It’s incredible how making a simple piece of art can change the patients focus and alleviate the stress of being in a medical environment,” Kathy said.

“Art making can also give patients an opportunity to create a meaningful memory and experience a sense of achievement.”

St John of God Berwick Hospital Allied Health Manager Angel Ching said art therapy also provides an opportunity for people to connect over a shared activity.

“It can be hard for those who are supporting someone to witness a loved one going through treatment,” Angel said.

“Art therapy can give carers the same supportive opportunities as the patient and doing an activity together holds the possibility of creating more understanding between the two.”Oncology patient showing his artwork made during art therapy

Numerous research studies have demonstrated that art therapy has positive impacts on depression and fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy treatment, Bar-Sela et al. (2007) and Wood et al. (2011). Initial feedback from patients has been very positive:

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have a chat and make some art.”

“It was nice to be able to talk to someone about everything.”

“Making art made me smile and broke up my session.”

The pilot project started in August this year and although it is only for half a day per week, 54 patients and 20 family carers have already reaped the benefits.

The service is being evaluated using surveys for both patients and carers before and after the individual art therapy sessions. 

Caregivers will also be surveyed at the end of the six-month pilot and it is hoped that the service will become a permanent part of the day oncology unit.

Acting Group Coordinator, Arts and Health Paul Davis said arts and health funding supports the development and trial of new arts-related services, including music and the performing arts.

“This is a great example of the kinds of pilot projects that we support,” Paul said.