Facilitating Identification, Expression and Integration of Emotions Related to Cancer: A Study of an Experiential Art Therapy Support Group for Women with Gynecologic Cancer

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Harding, Anne
Master of Arts in Art Therapy
A diagnosis of cancer can affect the emotional, spiritual, psychological and social self, as well as the physical self, thus affecting the quality of life both during and after cancer treatment according to recent literature. Emotions related to the diagnosis of cancer, the treatment and the consequences of treatment may have a negative impact on self concept and identity integration and may be difficult to express through traditional support group therapy. For women with gynecologic cancer these emotions may include feelings about mortality, fear, anxiety, grief, loss, sexuality issues, body image issues and side effects of treatment. Art therapy within the confines of a supportive group can be an excellent way to explore and learn to cope with the many changes brought on by the diagnosis, treatment and consequences of gynecologic cancer. This research study conducted through a mid-western university research facility utilized a five-week group art therapy based intervention, Drawing on the Inner Self, which was developed by the investigator/author for this study with the assistance of the co-facilitator of the study, who was also the program supervisor. The descriptive, action based research study was conducted with four women with a diagnosis of gynecologic cancer. It utilized specific art therapy modalities and group process to promote expression of emotions related to the diagnosis, treatment and experience of cancer by fostering adjustment and insight. Common themes and symbolism were found within the artwork and group discussion and facilitated group camaraderie and strength. The results of this study demonstrate that guided group art therapy with specific mind-body interventions and art therapy exercises are an effective modality to express, understand and cope with difficult feelings which impact self-concept and identity integration cancer, its treatment and the consequences of treatment.