A few days ago I attended an awesome workshop for cancer survivors and their caregivers. You might think that it would be about chemotherapy. Maybe about coping with the side effects of treatment. Or maybe even something about coping with hair loss. But this workshop was unique. Hosted by the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, the title of the program was Healing Through Creativity and Spirituality.
While I'm all for celebrating integrative/holistic therapies in my cancer journey - using mind body practices like meditation and qigong along with conventional medical treatments like chemotherapy - I was naÔve to the benefits of art for people living with cancer. I had read some of the studies, but like so many things in our lives, it took experiencing it myself to fully understand.
In our session we were given watercolors, and after a short introduction on the use of watercolors and a few watercolor panting techniques such as "wet on wet" and "wet on dry," were told to paint whatever came to us. The woman leading our workshop reminded us that emotions and feelings often come to us first in images, and only later in words. We were also told that the goal of our endeavor was to use imagery to identify what can bring us power and strength from within.
My second surprise - after learning about the field of art therapy to begin with - were the emotions and feelings I was holding in that flowed out of my fingers and on to the paper. Without having any plan about what I would draw, some of my favorite places appeared. Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. Lake Superior. A beautiful spot near my home. And all had trails leading in a direction that made me want to step into the painting and begin hiking. What the drawings told me is that I'm seeing the light at the end of my cancer treatments. And that even though this cancer journey has taken me places I wouldn't have chosen to travel, there has been beauty surrounding that winding brown path all along.
Oh - I guess I better make a note here. I'm not a painter, nor were most of the people who attended the workshop. You don't need to have any experience painting to benefit from art therapy. In fact, you don't even have to like art.
Your own painting experience will be different than mine. But I hope that, if you choose to try art therapy, you will find it healing as well. If your cancer center doesn't offer classes, here is an article that talks about art therapy with tips on how to get started on your own.
Photo: Dreamstime.com, author Morrhigan