An overview of art therapy interventions for cancer patients and the results of research

Complement Ther Med. 2010 Jun-Aug;18(3-4):160-70. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2010.04.001. Epub 2010 May 15.


Objectives: Over the last few years several offers in- and outpatient creative therapy interventions for cancer patients have been developed, implemented and researched. This article describes the content, concept and structure of art therapy interventions based on painting or drawing as well as some further methodical procedures and research results of art therapy in the field of psycho-oncology.

Methods: We searched electronic databases for papers published between 1987 and March 2009 on painting or drawing based art therapy interventions in oncology. The papers were selected using the inclusion criteria detailed below.

Results: Of 56 retrieved manuscripts, 17 papers reporting 12 research projects were included. The art therapy interventions differ from each other considerably in their content and structure. The variance in the study design of the papers was also high. More females than males participated in the interventions. The papers dealt with a variety of questions. A total of seven quantitative papers focused on mental health. A decrease in anxiety and depression was noted in six of these. Three papers documented an increase in quality of life. Moreover, four qualitative papers indicated positive effects on personal growth, coping, the development of new form of self-expression, and social interaction. Three papers with qualitative methods investigated participants' mechanisms for coping with their disease.

Conclusion: Published papers show that art therapy benefits cancer patients in various ways including improving their mental health. Nevertheless, more studies with an evidence-based design are necessary for reaching further conclusions on efficacy of art therapy. This research should include a focus on gender differences, and controlling possible influencing factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Art Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Quality of Life