Expressive Art Therapy at Maggie's

Monday 3 August

Expressive Art Therapy at Maggie's

Expressive Art is a way to explore feelings that can be difficult to put into words. Making art can help people affected by cancer to slow down, relax and express feelings through pictures, colour and form.

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art materials as its main mode of expression and communication. At Maggie's, it is part of our core programme of free emotional support, and Expressive Art groups take place regularly in many of our Centres, allowing people who have been affected by cancer to come and explore their feelings through art-making, or just to make art for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Finding out you have cancer affects people in many different ways, and some find it difficult to express in words the many complicated feelings that come with a diagnosis of cancer. This is where the Expressive Art programme comes in: sometimes it can be easier to express yourself visually than verbally.

Julie Parish has been running the Expressive Art group at Maggie's West London since the Centre opened in 2008, and in this time has seen hundreds of people in the art group.

“It isn't for everyone, but I've found that all kinds of people can benefit from the process of making art. As a trained Art Psychotherapist, I could, of course, just talk to people about how they are feeling, but the art materials add another dimension. People pick up the materials, make choices, play with them while they are talking to me, and as time goes by, the art-making develops. The art and art materials become a tool, if you like, for people to engage with, and its a very rewarding way to process and explore your feelings."

"Some people come because, having had a diagnosis of cancer, they felt the need to rethink their lives and perhaps to reconnect with being creative again. Or perhaps they have never been creative but they would like to have the chance to try. While some people will want to explore or confront what is happening to them, others will want to relax and get away from that. They may have found relaxation or mindfulness exercises difficult, but they find that, while making art, they are able to relax and switch over."

"You don't need to have any artistic talent or ability. There isn't a right or wrong type of art to make: there isn't any judgment on what is made, more the chance to explore and share the process with others. Generally, people who come to the group are curious to see what's there. They might like to pick up a pencil, or a piece of clay, or they might want to just sit and look and drink tea, and that's fine as well.  The group is something that can be whatever you want it to be, and it's for everyone."

Jacquie's story

Expressive Art at Maggie's West London has helped Jacquie to understand and come to terms with the physical and mental pressures that come with a diagnosis of cancer.

"In 2008, I was diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer. I am a counsellor, so I am used to listening to other people's problems, but when I was told I had cancer, I didn't even hear the words the doctor was saying to me. I found it difficult to talk about what I was going through. Whatever words I tried to use, I just couldn't articulate how I felt in the way I would normally be able to. And I found that when I tried to use words that would usually be meaningful to me, they just felt empty."

"Somebody, I can't remember who, suggested that I come to the Expressive Art group. I'd done art as an A-level and I'd really enjoyed it, but I'd never used it as a way of communicating or expressing anything. The group helped me to express the depth of my feelings in a way that I would never have imagined."

"My cancer has left me with some physical problems that are quite challenging to live with, and working through these in art therapy – it works again and again. It restores me and helps me engage and be with my family without always having to be the centre of attention because I'm ill."

"I don't show my family or friends what I do, and I can't do the work at home. That would feel horribly frightening. I draw my life, what it's like to have cancer and mostly I paint my dreams. It's cathartic. If it doesn't sound melodramatic – because I know this is real to me – it feels like it's saved my life."

If you’re interested in art therapy classes at Maggie’s, get in touch with your local Centre to find out more information.