The fine bristles of a brush dipped into water. A brush stroke loops across the surface of a board. An eye watches the art slowly evaporate until a clean slate remains.
While art, like this, can be a reminder of the brevity of beauty or the importance of the living in the moment, to a patient, it inspires.
Patients who are on a journey toward healing can yearn for that blank slate, that transformation as they move from a diseased state to recovery.
Katelyn Monahan who holds the brush has witnessed this desire in patients who struggle with schizophrenia, eating disorders and cancer. As a student in the Art Therapy Program at Cedar Crest College, she knows that art expresses what can be inexpressible.
Art therapy combines human development and psychological theories with visual art techniques and creative process. The American Art Therapy Association indicates that art can help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness and achieve insight.
Art therapy, a relatively new practice, traces its roots back to the 1940s, according to Art Therapy Journal. Contemporary art therapy programs are popping up in medical facilities, schools, shelters, correctional institutions, nursing homes, treatment facilities and private practices.
While Easton Hospital has been offering art therapy to cancer patients since 1985, Katelyn has been serving patients at the Easton Regional Cancer Center for the Spring 2016 semester. The relationships she forms in this outpatient setting are very different from her other internships in a residential facility and psychiatric hospital.
“At my other settings, the art was about process—both the creative process and processing trauma. Here art is about relaxation and discovery,” she says. “Patients develop an artist identity, something beyond their cancer identity. They relax into the present moment as they watch me create something or they feel uplifted by their involvement in making something beautiful.”
Birdhouses were on the list for this week, painting with bright colors to help energize the space and welcome spring.
“Many patients don’t feel well enough to make art,” she says. “My work here is very different from the nurses and physicians. They are busy with patients but so engaged and supportive. I can sit with patients, be a therapeutic presence and keep folks company.”
She can help patients keep their minds off chemotherapy and reduce their stress. She has colored mandalas, made bracelets and shared images of art made by oncology patients from other institutions.
Katelyn created a patient advice book, so new patients can be helped by the wisdom of other patients.
“Each patient has much to contribute and empathy can remind others that they are not alone in their feelings,” she says.
Their advice and thoughts from their journey won’t disappear like the water from the gentle stroke of brush on a momentary canvas.
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892