Art Therapy: Enhancing Well-Being Through Creative Expression

By Kate Pfeiffer, Art Therapist, Advocate Children’s Hospital
Published on March 28, 2016

Art Therapy

My name is Kate Pfeiffer, and I am one of the art therapists at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge. March 2 of this year marked the one-year anniversary of full-time art therapy services on the Park Ridge campus! Art therapy started at Advocate Children’s Hospital six years ago on the Oak Lawn campus.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy uses the process of making art to enhance well-being by inviting people to process their feelings and experiences through creative expression. Often people are able to make art about feelings they may not be able or willing to speak aloud such as fear, grief, anger, isolation, or even celebration of positive experiences. As stated on Advocate’s website, “Through art, patients are able to tell stories, share feelings and gain a sense of control over their lives.”

Art Therapy at Advocate Children’s Hospital

Art therapists at Advocate Children’s Hospital are housed within the Child Life Department and work closely with members of the staff to develop services to address patient needs. Much of my work as an Advocate art therapist is devoted to one-on-one time with patients in order to enhance their ability to cope with and even thrive through difficult hospital experiences.

A child I work with may make a splatter painting to express frustration, or illustrate a story about an animal that needs to go to the hospital to help work through their thoughts and questions. I might guide a teen in creating the Chicago skyline on the wall with colored tape in order to help make the hospital environment more welcoming and comfortable.

We also work with caregivers and siblings. A mother may use our time together to make a painting illustrating the love she has for her child in the hospital, and another to honor a child she has lost. The sister of a patient with a chronic illness might write down her worries and wrap them inside of a cloth “worry doll” so that the doll can hold worries for her.

In addition to personal interactions, services on both campuses include:

  • Monthly art therapy groups for parents/caregivers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
  • Twice-weekly art therapy groups with teens and children on the Pediatric Psychiatry Unit
  • Art therapy groups for bereaved parents and families
  • Collaboration with Mission and Spiritual Care, Midwest Children’s Brain Tumor Center, and various other departments to provide art therapy as part of bereavement services for families
  • Art recreation group for children and teens while parents attend our POP-in Parent group, provided by Family Advisory Council
  • Art therapy internships for graduate students pursuing art therapy careers

Art therapy is funded in part by philanthropic donations to Child Life, which allows us to expand and enhance services.

Reflecting on my first year, I feel lucky and proud to be able to contribute to the well-being of children and families at Advocate Children’s Hospital. I look forward to helping the art therapy program grow and develop through all of the years to come.

Read more about art therapy from a mother’s perspective.

Learn more about Child Life services at Advocate Children’s Hospital or make a charitable gift.