Art psychotherapy in medical oncology: A search for meaning

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Being poked, prodded and exposed to poisons or to radiation is often essential in oncology and can be deeply unpleasant, objectifying and dehumanising. Becoming an object of medical processes can also raise significant issues of identity. Art psychotherapy can work alongside these medical processes, bringing the humanity and search for and expression of meaning and value back into the equation. This is both intrinsically valuable to the patient and also to the quality of their relationships with others. I discuss some of the particular issues arising for oncology patients and consider the influence of existential phenomenological psychotherapy on my approach in this setting. I present a single session with a patient who felt he had lost his identity and was unable to connect with those around him. I also present work spanning 12+ sessions in which patients used art psychotherapy not only to negotiate changing body image and identity during cancer treatment, but to develop new ways of being in the world and relating to others post treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Art Therapy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2010


  • Medical oncology, cancer, objectification, identity, existential phenomenological psychotherapy, art psychotherapy


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