Relive the experiences described in the inspiring stories told by people close to the foundation.

“My art therapist has taught me to open up my inside windows whether it’s sunny or grey”

Lucie Sarrasin, M.A, B. Ed., is an art therapist at the Quebec Cancer Foundation. Here she presents her experience both in person and online, along with comments from several participants. 
In these times of pandemic, the general atmosphere is gloomy and the future looks uncertain. COVID-19 had added another level of anxiety to those already undergoing difficult cancer treatments in a sometimes surreal environment. This can add anxiety and worry and it is important to find a place to express your emotions.
Fortunately, our art therapy workshops offer some moments of respite. They will show you how to add colour and creativity to your everyday life. Once you enter the creative process, you will be able to put aside your preoccupations and focus on the goal of your artistic creation. For those who discover art therapy for the first time, it is a whole new experience, one that teaches them to let go. I begin by telling them: “Trust the art therapy process. Let your hand guide your brush or your pencil.”
You don’t need any experience to do art therapy. We encourage participants to create without the stress of performance anxiety: “The goal here is to express yourself and let go. And if you think what you have created is beautiful, that's a bonus!”.

We can sometimes be harsh in our judgment of ourselves. I advise participants to be gentle and kind toward themselves and to let out the emotions they are carrying inside. The important thing is not to perform, but to surrender to the creative process.
“Art therapy can only make you feel bigger, stronger. It’s an essential activity for reconnecting with yourself, surprising yourself, opening up to others, listening to yourself, daring  and letting go of situations you can’t always control. A unique and precious moment of sharing.” Émilie P.
When participants are in groups, we invite them to observe and express how each work resonates for them, rather than commenting on the beauty of the work or analyzing it. The art therapist leads the viewer to see the creation in a different light, but the interpretation belongs to the person who created it.
“My art therapist has made me realize the importance of accepting all the emotions I feel while I am creating, whatever they may be. She surprises me by seeing my creations in ways I never expected.” Émilie P.
It’s also important to respect everyone’s  person's rhythm and tastes and to allow them to share whatever they wish. I often tell them: “You only share and reveal what you want. There is no obligation”.
“My art therapist has taught me to open up my inside windows whether it’s sunny or grey, and always to do so in a spirit of deep respect, benevolence and authentic listening! My art therapist reminds me of the importance of taking my time and daring to be vulnerable in order to better understand myself.” Julia P.
In art therapy groups, we address all kinds of themes, some that are lighter, and some that are more difficult and delicate. For example, it’s not always easy for someone with cancer to talk openly with those around them about grief, anger, the fear of death, fatigue, or any other such topic. Participants sometimes tell me that although they take care of themselves, they also tend to forget themselves.
I then tell participants: “You may never have placed yourself very high on your list of priorities until now, but slowly, through the downtime imposed by this illness, you are learning to put yourself on that list and sometimes even to put yourself at very top, because the priority right now is you! It’s something you’re going to look forward to doing!”.
“My art therapist has taught me how to make requests in a way that doesn't hurt others, who don't always understand what it’s like to actually live with the disease. In addition, she taught me to take care of myself and become my own priority, to continue to think about others, but not to forget myself, as I tended to do before.” Stephanie C.
People with cancer sometimes find certain recurring comments difficult. They would prefer to talk about other things, but don't always know how to tell those around them without hurting them.
“For me the most useful tip I’ve learnt for dealing with others is to say, ‘You know, there are lots of other topics; let’s talk about something else’. It's a great communication tool.” Marie-Claude B.
The goal of art therapy is to offer a window on our inner world and to validate the emotions we feel. It also allows us to put what we are experiencing into perspective and better equip ourselves to handle the many challenges imposed by the disease. Art therapy groups give us the opportunity to meet other people dealing with similar situations, which does us lot of good and has the extra benefit of validating what we are feeling.

“My art therapist gives me the tools to express my emotions, the ones that are difficult to put into words and that sometimes are meant only for my art therapy group. This allows me to choose what I want or do not want to share with my loved ones. Basically, art therapy, in addition to being a moment for taking care of myself, is a tool for conveying in a more personal way what I am experiencing and feeling.” Marie-Josée
People often tell us that they confront many difficult situations during this medical journey and the fact that they are accompanied by art therapy allows them to face them more easily:
“Our art therapist is a precious aid in helping me legitimize what I feel or experience on this medical journey, and the particular accompaniment that she brings is invaluable for regaining confidence in my introspection and in the face of various upcoming events.” Christelle A.
To summarize, here are a few phrases that I use with participants in my art therapy sessions. To someone who says, for example, “I am never able to take my place”, I suggest:
“Allow me to reframe what you just said. Sometimes it's hard for you to take your place, but you're working through that challenge.” 

“It's important to be at the heart of yourself.” 
“Accept your vulnerability and fragility.” 
“I invite you to surrender yourself to the process of creation.” 
“Life takes us down some unexpected paths. Could you have suspected what it would have in store for you? So why worry about tomorrow when we don't know in advance where our paths will lead us?” 
The participants also have wise advice to share with others, backed by the support and guidance of the art therapist.
In the words of the Art Therapists Association: “The art therapist plays the role of witness, guide or catalyst who assists each person to express their creativity and translate their creative language into meaningful avenues of exploration and personal awareness.” 

All of this is what makes sharing so rich and art therapy so effective!

Comment on this article