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Patient and family resources
Patient and family resources

Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health profession in which patients, assisted by the art therapist, use art materials to explore and express thoughts and feelings through creativity. The goal of art therapy is to support the healing process and improve a patient’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Art therapists are trained in both art and psychology, and have knowledge about the psychological role of the creative process and the impact of using different art materials and techniques.

What can art therapy do?

Art is a natural language for children. It can help them make sense of and express their thoughts and feelings and improve coping. Through the process of creating art and working with an art therapist, a patient can:

  • Explore their feelings
  • Process emotional conflicts
  • Build self-awareness and increase self-esteem
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Use metaphor and symbolism to express themselves
  • Make choices to gain a sense of control in a medical environment; and
  • Express and begin to work through issues surrounding hospitalization, diagnosis and symptoms.

What happens during an art therapy session?

One-on-one art therapy sessions happen in a patient’s room at the bedside. Each art project is led by the patient’s and their interests, though the art therapist may choose to use certain materials to support particular goals. Depending on a child’s age, sessions range from 30 to 60 minutes.  

Sessions include time for art making and time for the art therapist to talk in a supportive environment about what the child created and their experience of art making. However, art therapy can also be a helpful tool for patients who feel more comfortable communicating nonverbally through a creative outlet than talking about their experiences, 

What if my child is not artistic?

Unlike art classes that focus on what the art looks like when it is finished, the focus of art therapy is on the art making process and the thoughts and feelings that come forward.  Art therapy encourages exploring different art materials, structured mess making, and experimenting with techniques in a safe space to build self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.  

How can my child receive art therapy?

Art therapy is available for patients ages 5 to 18 years of age from any inpatient area in the hospital who need support coping with experiences around illness and hospitalization.  

Referrals can be made by speaking with your child’s RN, physician, social worker, child life specialist or other member of the health-care team.  

Learn more about art therapy in adolescent medicine

Questions about Creative Arts Therapy and Referrals?
Please contact: creativearts.therapy@sickkids.ca
Kimberly O’Leary, Professional Practice Lead - Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy