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Health Humanities - Art Therapy

Mother of Art Therapy

"Margaret Naumburg (1890-1983) was born in New York City on May 14, 1890. As an undergraduate, she studied at Barnard College. After completing her bachelor’s degree in 1911, Naumburg continued studying at the London School of Economics and Columbia University. She focused on music, speech therapy, and child education; she also studied with Maria Montessori in Rome. When Naumburg returned to the United States, she facilitated the first Montessori class in New York City, and in 1915, she founded her own school, known as the Walden School...At the Walden School, Naumburg stressed the importance of allowing a child to develop his or her identity by exploring natural abilities, or aptitudes, through creative processes such as performing and visual arts...After leaving the Walden School in the early 1920s, Naumburg shifted her focus to writing. Based on her experiences at Walden, she published the book The Child and The World in 1928. Over the next several years, Naumburg focused on developing the art therapy technique and establishing it as a discipline; she began teaching art therapy classes and gave lectures throughout the state. Naumburg worked with children at the New York Psychiatirc Institute, and in 1947, she published Studies of the "Free" Art Expression of Behavior Problem Children and Adolescents as a Means of Diagnosis and Therapy based on her research at the institute. Naumburg joined the faculty of New York University, where she introduced art therapy at the undergraduate level. Naumburg continued to teach well into her 80s...Naumburg is widely credited with being the first psychotherapist to use art therapy, and she believed the modality could be used both to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. She directly influenced the introduction of a graduate level program at New York University in 1969. The program remains one of the most highly accredited art therapy programs in the world...Art therapy remains a popular approach, although the Freudian emphasis on the unconscious has been largely abandoned. Instead, contemporary art therapy serves as an alternative method for clients to process unpleasant emotions, to gain self-confidence, and to express themselves."

(Source: Good Therapy)

(Image: Naumburg's book, Foreword to the first edition by Nolan D. C. Lewis, M.D. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. copyright 1950.  Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 73-78074)

Art Therapy: How-To

"Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art. With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, clients can "decode" the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues."

Artistic activities that can be applied to a therapy session inlcude:

  • painting
  • drawing
  • finger painting
  • working with clay
  • carving
  • sculpting
  • doodling and scribbling
  • making collages

(Source: Psychology Today)

Art therapy can address the needs of:

  • people who experienced trauma, such as combat or a natural disaster
  • individuals with significant health challenges, including traumatic brain injuries and cancer
  • people with certain conditions, such as depression, autism, and dementia

Art therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety for people living with pain. In addition, experts say that the practice may be useful for people living with other conditions, such as:

  • anxiety
  • eating disorders, alongside standard treatments
  • substance use disordersTrusted Source
  • stress

(Source: Medical News Today)

15 Art Therapy Podcasts

A list of popular and recently updated Art Therapy podcasts in 2021. Examples include therapists from the United States and Europe putting their expertise on the web on divser subjects such as the mental health of children, balancing life and creativity, addressing stress in healthcare workers and more.

Arts, Empathy & Treatment

Can Art Cure You? Doctors to Prescribe Museum Visits in Pioneering Treatment, 2018.

"The pilot project, which will run for a year, operates under the belief that a museum setting might prove beneficial to a variety of conditions, from mental health to eating disorders and high blood pressure – it will be considered complementary to conventional treatment."

Why Going to an Art Museum Could Be as Good for You as Exercise

Cortés, Michelle Santiago,, 2018.

"These interventions go beyond the basics of medicine, encompassing activities that engage with patients on deeper physical, psychological, cognitive, and emotional levels."

Researchers Have Found That Visiting Art Museums Can Offer Significant Relief for People Living With Dementia

Elbaor, Caroline,, 2019.

"The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported reduced levels of depression, and improved quality of life, as well as cognitive function, in people with dementia who participated in a special program at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra."

Creative Arts Therapy Among Children With Cancer: Symptom Assessment Reveals Reduced Anxiety

Raybin, J. , Zhou, W. , Pan, Z. , Hendricks-Ferguson, V. & Jankowski, C. (2024). Creative Arts Therapy Among Children With Cancer. Cancer Nursing, 47 (1), 12-19. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000001186.


Symptom distress is related to decreased quality of life (QOL) among children with cancer, with high levels of pain, nausea, and anxiety reported. Creative arts therapy (CAT) has been related to improved QOL and symptoms in pediatric oncology, but the quality of evidence is mixed.


Children (n = 83) were between 3 and 17 years old (M = 6), 51.2% female, and 32% minority. All tumor types were represented: liquid (37.3%), solid (24.1%), and central nervous system (38.6%). Reduced child report of procedural anxiety was significantly related to receiving CAT with a medium magnitude of association (adjusted effect size = 0.58, P = .01).


Creative arts interventions were associated with a longitudinal improvement in anxiety in children with cancer. Further work is needed to target interventions to the appropriate specific burdensome symptoms.

The Met 360° Project: The Temple of Dendur

Art Therapy in Medical Situations

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Storytelling Through Music to Improve Well-being in Oncology Nurses

Phillips, C. S. , Volker, D. L. , Becker, H. & Davidson, K. L. (2021). Storytelling Through Music to Improve Well-being in Oncology Nurses. Cancer Nursing, 44 (6), 473-481. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000836.


Professional grief is one cause of psychosocial stress that, if not attended to, may contribute to burnout and compassion fatigue. Oncology nurses often avoid their emotions and learn to cope with professional grief in isolation. Interventions aimed at professional grief are limited.


To determine the feasibility of implementing a multidimensional intervention, Storytelling Through Music, with oncology nurses.

This was a 2-group, quasi-experimental design utilizing both qualitative and quantitative methods. The 6-week intervention combined storytelling, reflective writing, music, and psychoeducation. Descriptive statistics and conventional content analysis were used to analyze the feasibility data.
Most participants (n = 43) were female, white, working full-time in the outpatient oncology setting, with an average 8.5 years (range, 2–36 years) of oncology experience. Ninety-eight percent of the intervention was completed, and 98% of participants were retained. Analysis indicates that the intervention was acceptable, the participants learned they were not alone in their feelings, and they were supported by the group.
Results indicate that Storytelling Through Music is a feasible and acceptable intervention to address work-related emotions and psychosocial stress in this group of oncology nurses.
Implications for Practice
In 2017, the National Academy of Medicine stated clinician well-being must be a priority. Participation in this study was independently sought out by the oncology nurses and completed during their personal time. A future policy recommendation is to make participation in wellness interventions part of the mandatory competency training required by accrediting bodies so that institutions ensure the well-being of clinicians as a priority.

Artist’s Statement: My Perspective: Integrated Arts Curriculum to Recognize Burnout

Onyeali, R. , Diemer, G. , Mingioni, N. & Dean, H. (2021). Artist’s Statement: My Perspective: Integrated Arts Curriculum to Recognize Burnout. Academic Medicine, 96 (12), 1642-1642. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004400.


"Efforts to encourage humanism, preserve empathy, and nurture the soul are enhanced with the arts. An integrated arts curriculum uses an educational strategy where objectives in both core content—in this case, content relevant to medical trainees—and art skills are taught and explored, and learners use what has been taught to create a final project (a tangible piece of art) that demonstrates a deeper understanding of both subjects.
We employed this strategy to teach our internal medicine interns to understand and reflect on burnout, coupled with instruction on photography. After reviewing components of burnout and brainstorming behaviors that might suggest a resident was suffering from burnout, we taught them photographic techniques (e.g., use of color, lines, perspective, framing) that enhance the meaning of photographs. Each intern was asked to use these compositional techniques to create and share a meaningful photograph that represented burnout.
The photograph My Perspective by Dr. Rose Onyeali, on the cover of this issue, is a powerful example. In her own words, Dr. Onyeali describes how her composition highlights important symptoms of burnout—isolation, imposter syndrome, and shame."

Effects of Creative Arts Intervention on Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Quality Among Bone Marrow Transplantation Patients During Protective Isolation

Sertbaş, G. , Ok, E. & Unver, V. (2023). Effects of Creative Arts Intervention on Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Quality Among Bone Marrow Transplantation Patients During Protective Isolation. Cancer Nursing, 46 (1), E1-E10. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000001127.

Protective isolation remains part of the standard of care for patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplant in many places of the world. The consequences of protective isolation include increased anxiety and depressive symptoms.
The aim of this study was to determine the effects of creative interventions performed during the protective isolation period on anxiety, depression symptoms, and sleep quality of patients who underwent bone marrow transplantation (BMT).
This study was a randomized, controlled, pre-post pilot design. A total of 20 patients made up the sample group. Participants were randomly assigned to the experimental (n = 9) or control group (n = 11). Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale was applied to patients on the first day of admission to the unit and on the day of discharge. Questions prepared by researchers on sleep quantity and quality were administered every day during the patients’ hospitalization. The patients in the experimental group carried out creative arts intervention for a total of 60 minutes a day, 3 to 4 days a week, while they were in the unit.
There was no difference in depression, anxiety, and sleep quality scores between the groups after intervention. However, depression and anxiety scores significantly decreased after the intervention in the experimental group, and sleep quality scores improved significantly.
Creative arts intervention may be beneficial for anxiety, depression, and sleep problems among patients undergoing BMT.
Implications for Practice
Creative arts intervention is effective in coping with anxiety, depression, and sleep problems that patients may experience due to social isolation during the BMT process.

Art Therapy Resources

Journal of Humanities and Rehabilitation

"The Journal of Humanities in Rehabilitation is a peer-reviewed, multimedia, open-access journal published in collaboration with the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.  The purpose of this journal is to raise the consciousness and deepen the intellect of the humanistic relationship in the rehabilitation sciences.   Our mission is to encourage dialogue among rehabilitation professionals, patients, families and caregivers that describe the human condition as it experiences the impact of illness or disability.  We hope to highlight and illustrate the special relationship between the patient and rehabilitation provider, as well as provide a venue for scholarly discourse on topics that focus on rehabilitation from the uniquely human perspective that patients and providers share.  We also seek to critically examine the social-cultural assumptions underpinning rehabilitation."


American Art Therapy Association

"The American Art Therapy Association represents individuals and institutions who are dedicated to the art therapy profession and who have an interest in promoting its growth throughout the United States. Membership is comprised of, though not limited to: professional art therapists, students, educational institutions, and related mental health professionals...Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association is the most prestigious publication in the field and showcases leading research, practice-based articles, and more; it is fully accessible to you as a member."


The Good Listening Project

"The Good Listening Project cultivates resilience and wellbeing in healthcare communities. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, our programs help ease the emotional burden of hospital staff and other healers in an effort to fight burnout. The organic ripple effect of good listening fundamentally shifts how it feels to work and receive care at a hospital. By publishing the stories of our participants and the custom poems we create for them, we seek to highlight the humanity within the healthcare system. We envision a resilient world where all people experience connection and belonging."

Arts & Medical Education

Study Finds Med Students Who Make Time for Art Have More Empathy

Lesser, Casey,, 2018.

“We were able to show a reasonably robust correlation between the amount of time students spend in the arts and their scores on validated assessments of empathy, tolerance of ambiguity, wisdom; and negative correlation with burnout.”

Using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to Enhance Interprofessional Education

Torrents, Hope. Lit Med Magazine, 2021.

"Hope started the Fine Art of Health Care program at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami in 2009. The inter-disciplinary program uses art to enhance observation and communication skills in the service of clinical diagnosis.  The interprofessional workshops have evolved with the partnerships of doctors, nurses, and DNP faculty from the Miller School of Medicine and the School of Nursing Health studies. Other partnerships include the Lennar Medical Center and Sylvester Cancer Center. " 

Window Treatment—Bringing Art and Joy to Hospital Rooms

David Shih Wu, MD; Candice D. Harding; Felicia M. Lombard, MSN, CRNP 

JAMA. 2024;331(7):545-547. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.28102

"Picture yourself, the patient, in a typical hospital room: uncomfortable furniture, glaring lights, everything sterile and angular. All you have to look at is shiny medical equipment, pockmarked ceiling tiles, and a TV with nothing good on. The “wound vac” machine next to you will not stop beeping. Carts are constantly rattling by in the hallway. And your neighbor next door tends to, like a werewolf, howl every few minutes at night 

Most hospital rooms in the US are not conducive to the wellness of either patients or staff. Indeed “medicine has overlooked the role of the physical environment in patient well-being.”1 Now, imagine a simple intervention that could be implemented in any hospital room with a window—one that brings joy, relieves pain, and creates meaningful connections between patients and staff. And it only costs $4.99 plus tax."