August 4, 2017

New Art Therapy Program Helps Pediatricians Get the Big Picture

What goes on inside the mind of a young patient? It doesn’t always require fancy equipment to find out, but just a simple set of art supplies.

The newly added Art Therapy program combines psychotherapy and visual art during therapy sessions. It has simplified the sometimes complicated healing process for young patients recovering in Saskatchewan’s Acute Care Pediatrics unit. Art Therapists Jill Scott and Tracey Dudar spend eight hours per week with children in hospital and takes on the role of motivating them to reflect on paper what can’t always be put into words.

“Art Therapy provides a complimentary service to traditional medical and psychiatric treatments, which provide many benefits such as stimulating unconscious thoughts and using both hemispheres of the brain,” says Jill, who provides individual sessions of art directives and therapeutic counselling. “In the process of providing Art Therapy services we have noted that many patients have gained significant insight into their circumstances. We have also had opportunities to provide parent-child and dyadic Art Therapy sessions.”

The sessions act as a form of expression and healing allowing patients to escape from everyday redundancies in the hospital and the freedom to explore a world of their own. Without artistic expression, therapy sessions are often a lot less colorful and stimulating.

“During these sessions, children open up to the therapists and discuss emotions that they may not be comfortable sharing with other staff.  Often emotions of traumatic events, anxiety, depression or fear can be discussed,” says Melissa Speiser, Co-Manager of Acute Care Pediatrics. “Art therapy is less intimidating than other medical modalities in our environment.”

The Art Therapy program received funding from Spirit Halloween stores during the busy Halloween shopping season through the ‘Spirit of Children’ Program, an initiative dedicated to making hospitals less scary for kids. Since 2010, Spirit of Children has donated $128,684 to support the Child Life Zone thanks to the help of Spirit Halloween store customers who dig into their pockets for a small donation that adds up to a lot.  Rick Tereo from the Spirit of Children Program has noted just how important this mission is:

“Local Spirit Halloween stores collect donations during the selling season, so that the benefit is felt in the immediate community. It is gratifying to us to understand what is made possible through our support,” says Rick. “All of the artwork sent to us from children across North America has brought great joy to me and helped me to understand  a little of what they are going through.”

It is common for certain health indicators to rise to the surface during a typical session, allowing staff to pinpoint areas revolving around the child’s coping skills, health behaviours and positive or negative life choices. It is especially beneficial in treatment plans for patients who are sometimes difficult to engage with, such as teens with eating disorders, overdoses or oncology patients.

“Art therapy can also uncover social issues that children face daily such as bullying,” explains Melissa. “This therapy can be a very important piece to help the medical staff assess beyond the physical.”

It’s a bit like painting by numbers; a step-by-step process. As creativity takes its course, medical staff are able to see how a patient is evolving both inside and out. When kids have difficulty interpreting and communicating how they feel, an Art Therapy session just may be the solution to helping them express feelings, thoughts and ideas.

“Most patients are very receptive to the services. They tend to show excitement, engagement and non-verbal cues that would indicate that they are benefitting, such as smiling, laughing and demonstrating creativity,” says Tracey. “In some cases where resistance is observed, the patients seem to respond favourably after giving art a chance. They let their defenses down due to the nonthreatening aspects of using the art as a bridge to communication.”

Art Therapy sessions will be an addition to the Child Life Zone in Saskatchewan’s new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, set to open in fall 2019. The 2,800 square foot space will be a place where pediatric patients and their families can play, learn, laugh and relax. It was created in partnership with country music legend Garth Brooks and his Teammates for Kids Foundation, The Mosaic Company and Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“We are so thankful for the funding received for the Art Therapy program and the therapists who work directly with our sick and injured children,” says Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Having personal expressions of art through creative therapy as a part of the Child Life Program is a proven healer. This addition will make an immense difference in a child’s physical and emotional healing.”

To donate to the Child Life Program, please visit

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