A study that was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, found that art therapy can reduce a wide range of symptoms related to pain and anxienty in cancer patients. The study was conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where cancer patients reported significant reductions in eight of nine symptoms measured by the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS), after spending an hour working on art projects of their choice.
The ESAS is a numeric scale, which allows patients to assess their symptoms of pain, tiredness, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, lack of appetite, well-being and shortness of breadth. In the study conducted, eight of these nine symptoms improved. Nausea was the only symptom that did not change after the art therapy session.
Each art therapy session was individualized and patients were offered a choice of subject matter and media. When participants could not use their hands or were not comfortable using the art materials, the art therapist would do the art under the direction of the subject or they could look at and discuss photographic images that were assembled into a book.
Sessions ranged from light entertaining distraction to investigating deep psychological issues, says Nancy Nainis, MA, ATR, an art therapist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who is the lead author on the study. “We were especially surprised to find the reduction in ‘tiredness’,” says Ms. Nainis. “Several subjects made anecdotal comments that the art therapy had energized them. This is the first study to document a reduction in tiredness as a result of art therapy.”