Inspiring creative healing through materials and metaphor

By Lori Mackey, DAT, ATR-BC, LPC, CCLS

On Sunday, October 8th, I lace up my running shoes in support of the Art Therapy program at Advocate Children’s Hospital Oak Lawn. My passion and dedication in the belief of the intrinsic healing nature of art and art making has woven a path for me between the clinical and academic worlds of art therapy.

I have been an Art Therapist for over 15 years, with the majority of my career spent working with children affected by cancer. Just over a year ago, I left my role as an assistant professor and director of a graduate art therapy program to return to my heart’s work at the front lines of the children’s hospital.

Each day, as the Art Therapist for the Division of Hematology Oncology at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, I witness small and large moments of courage, strength, creativity and hope within my patients and their family members as well as within my medical team and coworkers. I am blessed to work amongst a dedicated and compassionate interdisciplinary team who support art therapy as a modality for wellness, coping, and healing.

Art therapy provides a safe, non-verbal space that invites communication and expression when words are too difficult to find or when words are not enough to describe the array of thoughts and emotions that emerge as a result of diagnosis or medical trauma. I work with children and teens throughout the span of their illness both inpatient and in the outpatient Keyser clinic. Art therapy encourages self-expression of thoughts and emotions, instills hope, and offers a sense of control during times when young patients may have very little.

At times, I provide art therapy interventions to assist with managing anxiety and stress, to explore existential concerns, or to provide visual communication for pain and to increase self-awareness. Art Therapy is multifaceted in that both the processes of making art can be therapeutic as well as the exploration of the metaphors that emerge from the images and artistic creation. Art therapy provides young patients with opportunities to explore who they are, who they were, and who they want to be prior to their diagnosis, because of their diagnosis, or despite their diagnosis. Throughout my years as an Art Therapist I have witnessed the many ways art inspires creative healing providing a sense of hope, love, and resiliency.

Why have I chosen to run for Art Therapy at Advocate Children’s Hospital? The most simple, yet complex answer: Love. It is an honor to be invited into the intimate worlds of my patients; to be present in the midst; to journey with them through the raw moments of pain and fear and hope and love. The patients I work with inspire me to push myself outside of my comfort zone, to honor the pain and challenges of training for a marathon, and to celebrate the big and little successes along the way. These children and adolescents inspire me to face my fears with courage and grace and to find humor, love and laughter in my days.

With gratitude, I run forward with hope and love in honor and memory of my many patients.