Coloring, Open-Studio Art Therapy Benefits Cancer Patients, Caregivers


A study suggests that even brief art-making interventions can be beneficial for stressed caregivers of patients with cancer.

Coloring and open-studio art therapy can benefit stressed caregivers of patients with cancer, according to new research from Drexel University’s Creative Art Therapies department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, as well as researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Families of patients with cancer oftentimes experience emotional trauma surrounding the diagnosis, such as stress of treatment and financial concerns. Researchers also added that oncology professionals, such as nurses, therapists, and physicians, experience their own set of negative events, including avoidance of empathetic care, mistakes in patient care, health problems, and burnout.

The mixed-methods study included 2 arts-based approaches for caregivers: single sessions of coloring and open-studio art therapy. It included 34 caregivers, 25 health care professionals, and 9 family caregivers randomly assigned to 45 minutes of an independent, open-studio art therapy or an active-control coloring session, with all sessions run by trained art therapists.

Before and after each session, participants were given surveys to self-report their positive and negative feelings, such as stress and anxiety. After both the art therapy and coloring sessions, participants expressed increases in positive affect, pleasure, and enjoyment, and decreases in negative affect, anxiety, perceived stress, and burnout.

Many expressed a desire to continue to make art in the future, as taking time out of their busy schedules to engage in art helped them to focus on something other than their caregiving.

According to the study authors, the findings suggest that even brief art-making interventions can be beneficial for stressed caregivers of patients with cancer. Furthermore, creative activities such as art-making are mindful practices, allowing patients and caregivers to stay in the moment, which by definition can free them from the stress that cancer brings, according to the study.

The authors recommend that oncology units have similar, dedicated studio spaces with therapeutic support and different forms of art-making available to meet individual caregiver needs.


  • The Art of Cancer Caregiving: How Art Therapies Can Benefit Those Caring for Cancer Patients [press release]. Published October 21, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2019.

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