1. What is Medical Art Therapy
2. Benefits of Medical Art Therapy
3. Who can Medical Art Therapy Help
4. When to use Medical Art Therapy
5. Research using Medical Art Therapy
6. Medical Art Therapy Exercises
7. Free Download Art Therapy Exercise


Medical art therapy provides people with a medical illness to express their emotions and experiences through art. Medical art therapy can help reduce a range of physical symptoms related to medical illness including pain and anxiety.

Art therapy can also help alleviate the psychological effects that people with a medical illness experience including uncertainty about their health, impact on family and friends and working through stages of grief, stress, and trauma associated with a medical illness.

Some medical centres and hospitals incorporate art therapy as part of patient care while noting the care of a patients psychological state influences their rate of physical recovery.



A medical illness can make a patient feel isolated and misunderstood in their experience of the illness. When art therapy is provided in group therapy, this can help patients connect with other patients who have similar experiences. This process of art making can help form a community, deepen understanding, and make connections with other people experiencing the same problems.

The experience of a medical trauma or illness can also result in the patient feeling a significant degree of anger about their situation and the physical changes that are occurring. Art therapy can provide a space for patients to explore and express these emotions of anger and resentment to ultimately help them accept their situation and direct their energy towards recovery.


The medical process can be very invasive and as a result people can feel a significant loss of control over their own lives. Patients are often overwhelmed with medical knowledge, multiple appointments, and decisions being made about them by medical staff. This can erode a person’s sense of autonomy and competence over their own body and choices for treatment.

While the medical process may be out of the patient’s control, they can begin to process their emotions about the experience through art. Making the art work belongs to the patient and every choice the patient makes can strengthen their self belief and self esteem. Art making can represent the space in which a patient can feel safe to explore the most difficult parts of their medical illness without resistance from medical professionals or loved ones.

If medical art therapy can be provided as part of patient care, this means the medical model embraces all parts of the patients recovery and can incorporate the work done in art therapy as part of the patient’s overall treatment plan.

Children can use the process of art therapy to role play and create characters that can help them through some of the medical procedures they have to endure. This can help children become empowered and reduce fear around needles, equipment, and other daunting aspects of the medical environment.


Medical illness can be a distressing and traumatic experience for many people. While many external components are out of the patients control such as diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, art can help provide a portal to help the client developing important personal characteristics that are useful in developing throughout the illness.

Some of the most important areas of personal growth for patients include:

  • Developing coping mechanisms for distress
  • Developing resilience
  • Engaging in mindfulness
  • Gratitude for each stage of recovery


The hospital environment can be a distressing and disruptive environment. As humans we are conditioned to our comforts and the safety of our home environment, however, a hospital environment is often clinical and cold with distinctive smells and sounds from medical equipment and protocols.

Furthermore, the patient is presented with confusing and difficult medical terminology which does not instill a sense of certainty and understanding for the patient. In these instances, the patient can feel excluded and ostracized from their own treatment. Art therapy can help the patient determine what their illness means to them and identify how it has impacted them. This can then encourage a dialog between the patient and medical staff to further deepen the patients understanding of their situation.

In the case of children, they can work with an art therapist using images to help the child understand how their body works when it is healthy and sick. Art therapy can also provide an avenue for using images to portray how the child’s recovery will occur so the child can draw comfort from the images if the verbal explanations are not understood.


Medical art therapy is beneficial to everyone including:

  • Children
  • Adults
  • Group Art Therapy
  • Family Support

It’s important to note that as patients are affected by a physical illness this can sometimes affect their ability to engage in art making practices and the types of materials that they can use. All art supplies should be non-toxic and follow strict hygiene and infection protocols.

All art supplies should be disinfected prior to the patient using them. If practice, it would be beneficial for patients to have their own set of art supplies that only they have access to. Art therapists should work in conjunction with medical staff to ensure that infection protocols are adhered to. This may mean art therapists have to wear appropriate gowns, masks, and gloves when in contact with their client.

Art therapy is especially useful for children who have less understanding and experience of how the medical system works than adults do. Art therapy provides an opportunity for children to use art resources they may be familiar with to express emotions and fears that they have never had to face before.

Some of the most common medical diagnoses where art therapy is useful include:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic health issues from long term syndromes
  • Post surgery recovery
  • Physical changes due to surgery
  • Near death experiences
  • Motor neuron diseases

Art therapy can be used in many different medical illness situations and therefore the above list should not be considered an exhaustive list.


The most common stages of a medical illness are listed below. Art therapy interventions can be used at any of these stages to help the patient/client.

  • Outpatient
  • Inpatient
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prognosis
  • Chronic Illness
  • Medical trauma


Below are a number of links to research articles showing the use of medical art therapy. These research articles can provide additional context of how art therapy is used for people who are experiencing a medical illness:

The article An Art Therapy Protocol for the Medical Trauma Setting provides some useful suggestions for establishing an art therapy protocol to use for patients who are impacted by a medical illness.

This art therapy protocol includes:

  1. To establish a therapeutic framework for art therapy interventions with the patient
  2. To utilize the patient’s natural coping mechanisms of denial and projection through art processes.
  3. To clear up misconceptions regarding hospitalization, medical procedures, and the medical event.
  4. To encourage mastery and creativity, enhance self-esteem, and reaffirm the patient’s appropriate age-level abilities.
  5. To offer the patient emotional, physical, and social outlets to decrease stress.
  6. To bridge the gap between home and hospital through all phases of the recovery from trauma.
  7. To evaluate the family situation and to assess evidence of abuse, neglect, or family crisis in the course of ongoing art therapy and psychosocial evaluation.
  8. To provide art therapy follow-up groups and appropriate referral to support agencies in the community prior to discharge from the hospital.



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What is Medical Art Therapy

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