Sue (pseudonym) is a primary school-aged girl who was diagnosed with cancer and is now in remission. She was referred for art therapy along with her younger sisters.
Her treatment and stays at the hospital have made her anxious and stressed and she was facing difficulties in falling asleep. Art therapist Kelly Reedy facilitated this programme for the siblings.
Sue took an instant liking to the sessions. She was quite resourceful and enthusiastic in finding objects such as paper clips, buttons to decorate her artwork, the “manageable monster/challenge” and “fairy helper” sock puppets. Creating them was a cathartic journey for Sue as it helped her identify and verbalise her fears and hope.
Sue worked on her puppets with great care and enthusiasm and a few sessions into the programme, started identifying with them.
She asked art therapist Kelly if she could rename them. Her “monster/challenge” puppet was now called “Darkness” (Fig.1).
The artmaking process helped her identify with these characters who are going through her experiences of battling a terminal illness.
She decided to name her heroine Sue by the end of the third session. Mid-way through the programme, she gave her fairy helper puppet two magical eyes, a green one to see the light and
yellow one to see through the darkness (Fig. 2).
Towards the end of the programme, Sue started creating a storyboard (Fig. 3) and a play with the puppets. In the last sessions, she completed
her storyboard and staged her play in which the fairy helper assisted Sue, the heroine, by giving her two wishes to overcome her fear of Darkness, the monster puppet. The heroine wished for “light” to return and to “go home to bed”.
The play and the storyboard symbolically reflected her
discomfort with “darkness and sleeping”, and other fears of living with a critical illness.
The last session was an online celebration for art therapist Kelly and the girls.
“It was very moving when the child sat down close to the computer screen and said that she wanted to tell me a secret. She proceeded to tell me in detail her journey with her critical illness from the first day, through all the stages of her treatment and recovery. Her parents later told me that she never talks about her illness.
As a final drawing (Fig.4), she drew a tree and water with the written phrase, “A tree needs air, food and water, but we only need love!”.
A beautiful image of hope and resilience!”
All in all, art therapy has enabled Sue to take ownership of her story, and as an extension, her life. It has also helped her siblings to identify their own fears as well.