News & Perspectives

The Art of Healing
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

Marsha comes into the art room a few days after undergoing a difficult session of chemotherapy. Picking up her paints and brushes, she enters another world, a world of color and light where she can express the feelings she's experienced since being diagnosed with breast cancer. Drawing her brush across the canvas and creating a beachfront scene that evokes memories of happy family vacations, she starts to regain a sense of balance in her life.

Marsha is taking part in a new program offered by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a leader in cancer research and therapy. Headed by Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., the service incorporates healing regimens designed to relieve stress and ease pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. The program offers "virtually all the rational alternative therapies," says Dr. Cassileth, among them acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, tai chi, meditation, and nutrition.

The creative approach
Art therapy uses creative activity to help patients resolve emotional conflicts, develop self-awareness, and increase self-esteem. Many people facing a serious illness have difficulty expressing their fears and emotions. The process of creating visual art followed by an attempt to understand its symbolic meaning can help patients deal with their hidden emotions. In addition, as Dr. Cassileth observes, "Patients take great pride in producing something that other people enjoy and value. It makes them feel very good about themselves."

A person does not have to possess great artistic skills to benefit from art therapy. Dr. Cassileth notes that the art therapist is actively involved, helping individuals express themselves both visually and verbally. Through art, whether in the form of drawing, painting, or sculpting, patients can confront unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their disease. Art therapy has proved especially valuable in helping children who are ill because they're frequently unable to talk about their real fears and concerns.

Music therapy
Another treatment offered by the program is music therapy. Several studies have indicated that listening to music can decrease anxiety and reduce pain in people undergoing diagnostic and surgical procedures, such as biopsies, MRIs, or major operations (AORN Journal, 10/97). Memorial Sloan-Kettering is currently beginning a study to assess the effects of music therapy on patients undergoing surgery for colon cancer.

For more information, contact: Integrative Medicine Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, 303 East 65th Street, New York, NY 10021 (212-639-8629;

Further reading: Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., The Alternative Medicine Handbook (Norton, 1998); Michael Samuels, M.D., Creative Healing (HarperCollins, 1998).

Date Published: 03/26/2000
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top