Helping our patients through art therapy

Emma Faruolo

By Emma Faruolo, Art Therapy intern at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute

I recently graduated from Wayne State University with a master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in art therapy.  From February to August of this year, I spent time at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, completing an internship providing art therapy and counseling services to patients and their guests.

I became interested in art therapy because I was searching for a way to be of service and make a difference with my creative talents.  Experiences during art school and post-undergraduate training exposed me to community arts, populations in need, and the power of art to transform lives.   

I found that patients, their family and guests, and staff have responded positively to my presence and work at Karmanos. I’ve also found that art therapy helps patients who deal with the ordinary experiences found in a hospital visit, such as waiting to see a doctor, busy waiting rooms, lengthy treatments and times when they do not have visitors. Art therapy is a wonderful way to address these issues and to respond to the patients’ needs.

You’re probably asking, ‘What is art therapy and how does it help a patient cope with their illness?”

Art therapy is the structured use of making art and the creative process as a way to promote the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of all individuals. An art therapist is a master’s level mental health professional with an educational background in psychology, fine studio arts and clinical therapeutic techniques.

The use of art therapy in cancer treatment provides a unique opportunity for patients and families to explore issues surrounding hospitalization and illness. Creating artwork with a qualified art therapist can provide relief from stress, boredom, anxiety and pain, while increasing a patient’s sense of control in the medical environment.

Some of the materials that I provide to patients include those for drawing (pencils, oil pastel, chalk pastel, colored pencils, markers, paper), painting (acrylic, watercolor, brushes, masking tape, canvas board), jewelry making (beads, memory wire, pliers, bead board), and ceramic hand-building (air dry clay, paint, tools).  I’ve also brought in specific materials that patients requested such as magazines for a collage.  

What I enjoy most about working with patients at Karmanos is bearing witness to the tremendous strength shown through their artwork and stories. I often felt like a nomad wandering through the hospital with my pile of art supplies, going door to door inviting patients to make art.  

I loved the moment when a patient would get a glow in their eyes and exclaim, “Yes, I’ll make something.”  From there it was impossible to know what would happen, what would be said or made, but that element of the unknown was exhilarating.

Interning at Karmanos has inspired me professionally and personally. I’ve grown as an art therapist because I had a chance to put my knowledge and skills into practice and see how art therapy unfolds in a hospital setting.  I’ve also grown as a human being because of the inspiring people I interacted with (which includes patients and staff) and the inner strength I found in order to face the suffering of others with an open heart.

I would like to continue providing services at Karmanos by designing a more comprehensive art therapy program for patients, caregivers and staff.  This includes developing ongoing groups and workshops on art therapy and counseling, in addition to regular rounds in outpatient and inpatient areas. I am working with Karmanos staff to obtain funding for my proposal. My main goals with these efforts are to contribute to patient care and to creatively enrich the patient environment at Karmanos.

I am now leading two art therapy workshops:

Friends Like Me– (for children ages 6-16 who have a loved one living with cancer)

This workshop is part of the quarterly talk time sessions and also provides childcare for parents attending the caregivers workshop.  This workshop meets the first Thursday quarterly (Dec. 1) from 5:30-7 p.m.

Families Like Me– This monthly workshop includes art activities for families that enhance communication and provide tools to create a supportive family bond.  It meets Sept. 24 from 10 a.m.-noon.

If you would like more information about the workshops or are interested in registering, please call the Supportive Services office at (313) 576-9700. For more information about Karmanos, visit or call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266). For more information about art therapy, visit The American Art Therapy Association’s website at



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