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Alternative Therapy: Art Therapy, Dance Therapy, Music Therapy, and Imagery

What is art therapy?

Creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provides a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness, and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness. The art therapist uses pictures, art supplies, and visual symbols as well as an understanding of behavior to help patients address their own personal concerns and conflicts.

Art therapists work with patients individually or in groups. The art therapist provides the materials necessary to create paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other types of artwork. This type of therapy may help you express feelings about cancer through art and discuss emotions and concerns as related to it. In another form of art therapy, you may view pieces of art, often in photographs, and then talk with a therapist about what you see.

Can art therapy help people with cancer?

Art therapy is a body-mind therapy. The American Cancer Society states that art therapy has not undergone rigorous scientific study to determine its therapeutic value for people with cancer, but many clinicians have observed and documented significant benefits among people who have participated in art therapy. Participating in art therapy or creating art on your own can be an effective form of distraction as well. Thinking about and creating art can help to distract you from focusing on thoughts of pain and anxiety.

Many art therapists believe this type of therapy works, in part, because of the act of creating art influences brain wave patterns and the substances released by the brain. It helps people express hidden emotions; reduce stress, fear and anxiety; and provides a sense of freedom.

How does art therapy work?

Creating art with an art therapist helps you express painful thoughts or memories possibly related to your cancer diagnosis. This may, in turn, help you cope with the difficulties of the diagnosis. In conventional mental health therapy, people talk with a counselor. To talk about traumatic or painful experiences that may be hidden in the subconscious mind is an important part of the healing process. In much the same way, creating a drawing or painting of an emotion or event can serve as a tool that helps the art therapist guide you through the process of dealing with similar concerns.

Are there any possible problems or complications associated with art therapy?

Art therapy is considered safe and may help people with cancer deal with their emotions. However, it does not cure cancer. Art therapy, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive, but should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your health care provider for more information.

What is dance therapy?

Dance therapy uses movement to improve mental and physical well-being. It is a recognized form of complementary therapy used in hospitals and comprehensive clinical cancer centers.

Can dance therapy help people with cancer?

Several clinical reports suggest that dance therapy helps people accomplish the following:

  • Develop positive body image
  • Improve self-concept and self-esteem
  • Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Decrease isolation, chronic pain, and body tension
  • Increase communication skills
  • Encourage a sense of well-being

For some cancer patients, dance therapy is an effective form of exercise. However, dance therapy has not been studied enough to know if there are any unique health benefits to cancer patients, or to confirm the effects on prevention and/or recovery of illness.

How does dance therapy work?

The physical benefits of dance therapy as exercise are well documented. Experts have shown that physical activity is known to increase special neurotransmitter substances in the brain (endorphins), which create a state of well-being. And total body movement such as dance enhances the functions of other body systems, such as circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular systems. Dance therapy can help you stay physically fit and enjoy the pleasure of creating rhythmic motions with your body.

Are there any possible problems or complications associated with dance therapy?

There are no known negative side effects of dance therapy. However, dance is a form of exercise. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have a chronic condition such as arthritis. Your health care provider can evaluate whether the physical movements of dance therapy might be harmful to your cardiovascular system, joints, or muscles.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy uses music to promote healing and enhance quality of life. It is a complementary therapy that is used along with other cancer treatments to help patients cope mentally and physically with their diagnosis. Music therapy may involve listening to music, creating music, singing, and discussing music, in addition to guided imagery with music.

Can music therapy help people with cancer?

Scientific studies have shown the positive value of music therapy on the body, mind, and spirit of children and adults. Researchers have found that music therapy used along with anti-emetic drugs (drugs that relieve nausea and vomiting) in patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy can be effective in easing the physical symptoms of nausea and vomiting. When used in combination with pain-relieving drugs, music has been found to decrease the overall intensity of the patient's experience of pain, and can sometimes result in a reduced use of pain medication.

Music can also help accomplish the following:

  • Relieve stress, apprehension, and fear
  • Improve mood
  • Lower heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate
  • Relieve depression
  • Relieve sleeplessness
  • Relieve muscle tension and provide relaxation

Music therapists believe that:

  • Rhythm is beneficial. Our muscles, including the heart muscle, synchronize to the beat of music. For example, some classical music approximates the rhythm of the resting heart (70 beats per minute). This music can slow a heart that is beating too fast.
  • Self-expression in music therapy can reveal subconscious thoughts and feelings, and be therapeutic in the same way psychotherapy has shown to be therapeutic.
  • The creative process of creating art whether it is through music, painting, sculpture, or dance can be beneficial.

How does music therapy work?

Music therapy can be incorporated into many different environments. People listen to music alone or in groups, with trained therapists or without. It can be as simple as someone listening to a CD. Specially selected music can be broadcasted into hospital rooms.

Music therapists design music therapy sessions for a wide variety of needs. Some of the ways music is used as therapy include the following:

  • Music improvisation
  • Receptive music listening
  • Song writing
  • Lyric discussion
  • Imagery and relaxation
  • Performance of music

For example, in a music therapy session that is specially designed to promote self-expression, the therapist might create a musical and emotional environment that encourages you to respond by revealing personal experiences or feelings. The session might incorporate speech and drama as well as music. Or the therapist might use singing and discussions. By playing music with lyrics, the therapist can encourage you to make up words that are then formed into a positive, unique song.

Are there any possible problems or complications associated with music therapy?

Music therapy, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive, but should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your health care provider for more information.

What is imagery?

Imagery is a form of distraction. It involves mental exercises designed to stimulate the mind to influence the health and well-being of the body. It uses visualization techniques to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as manage pain, lower blood pressure, and ease some of the side effects of chemotherapy.

Can imagery help people with cancer?

There is no scientific evidence demonstrating that imagery affects cancer cells. Rather, it is a relaxation technique, similar to meditation, that has other physical and psychological effects on the body. In some cases, imagery has been found to alleviate nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, relieve stress, enhance the immune system, facilitate weight gain, combat depression, and reduce pain.

How does imagery work?

There are many different imagery techniques. One popular method is called palming, which involves placing the palms of your hands over your eyes and first imagining a color you associate with anxiety or stress (such as red), then imagining a color you associate with relaxation or calmness (such as blue). Visualizing a calming color may make you feel relaxed, which may, in turn, improve your health and sense of well-being.

Another common imagery technique is known as guided imagery. Guided imagery involves visualizing a specific image or goal to be achieved, and then imagining yourself achieving that goal. Athletes often use this technique to improve their performance.

Are there any possible problems or complications associated with imagery?

Imagery techniques, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, have the potential to be pleasant and productive, but should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your health care provider for more information.

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