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Art therapy: Leveraging support to provide an outlet for patients to express themselves

art therapy

Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

As an art therapist for Texas Children’s Art Therapy Program, I spend a great deal of time helping our patients and families cope and adjust to their hospital experience. Some of our patients are here for a few days while others are here for a longer period of time. Since joining the team three years ago, my primary focus has been to create a positive experience for my patients and their families during their hospital stay.

Dealing with an unexpected diagnosis and subsequent treatments can be an especially stressful time for patients and families. For many children, the hospital environment can be a scary and unfamiliar place, which can create emotional stress and anxiety. When patients are admitted to the hospital, they are introduced to many new faces and an environment filled with unusual sights and sounds. Much of their fear and anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect.

Art therapy plays a crucial role in the healing process for our patients. It’s more than just creating colorful masterpieces, but it also facilitates building lasting memories and legacies with our patients and their families. Art therapy offers creative and therapeutic tools and interventions for patients to express their emotions and communicate about their world. In addition to fostering opportunities for creativity and self-expression, creating artwork within the context of art therapy promotes relaxation, boosts positive self-esteem and resilience, and provides a distraction from the stress surrounding a child’s illness.

Our Art Therapy Program is supported by Harrison’s Heroes, a family foundation in Houston that brings joy and happiness to children experiencing extended stays in the hospital by providing them with comforting aspects that remind them of home. Their belief is based on the powerful notion that happiness promotes healing, which is what we strive to do for our patients and their families at Texas Children’s.

Thanks to Harrison’s Heroes and their generous donation, we have a beautiful art studio where children and families can use art and engage creatively while in the hospital. The art studio is a medical free zone. When they step into the studio, children know this is a safe space to imagine, create and make art, where there is no medical interaction. It’s also a peaceful and relaxing respite for families to take a break from stressors that often come when a child is undergoing treatment.

When you first walk into the art studio, the walls are filled with beautiful artwork pieces from our patients. The art displays are not only a special place for children to be creative and make art, but they also allow children to see their own representations around them, which is very empowering. The art studio offers family and individual art therapy sessions, where a range of materials help meet different patient needs and equip them to achieve their creative vision. In doing so, the expressive power of art helps decrease any feelings of isolation patients may be experiencing while in the hospital.

Due to their medical condition, some patients may not be able to leave their hospital room. In efforts to equip these patients with the same materials we have in the art studio, Harrison’s Heroes has provided Texas Children’s with mobile art carts that allows us to go anywhere throughout Texas Children’s Medical Center Campus. With these carts, we are able to bring meaningful art projects and experiences that happen in the art studio to our patients at bedside.

There are so many benefits to having a dedicated art studio and mobile art carts for the Art Therapy Program and Child Life Department at Texas Children’s. We are grateful to Harrison’s Heroes for their passion, vision and continued support of patients through art during their hospitalization.

As part of our two-part blog series this fall, our Art Therapy team will feature a blog from a patient family who is thankful to have these resources and shares how it helped them cope during their hospital stay.

Click here to learn more about Texas Children’s Art Therapy Program.

Ashley Wood, ATR-BC, Board Certified Art Therapist, Texas Children's Hospital