Researchers at National Jewish Health found that children with persistent asthma enjoyed decreased anxiety and increased quality of life after seven weekly art-therapy sessions. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, is the first randomized trial of art therapy for asthma.
For a child, the fear and anxiety associated with an asthma attack can last long after the attack has subsided. Study participants who received art therapy showed significant improvements in problem solving, communication, quality-of-life, anxiety, and self-concept scores. At 6 months, they maintained positive changes in anxiety and quality-of-life scores relative to those in the control group.
In art therapy, patients create artwork that helps express their feelings about an illness, a trauma, or medical concerns. The artwork can then serve as a starting point for discussions about these issues.
Researchers believe creating art helps participants establish distance between themselves and their medical concerns. They learn to understand that they have a personal identity outside of their illness. It is believed to be particularly effective with children because they often do not have the adult capabilities to verbally articulate their emotions, perceptions, or beliefs, and often can more comfortably convey ideas in ways other than talking.
“Asthma impacts not only a child’s physical well-being but also has a considerable effect on a child’s quality of life and psychological development,” said Anya Beebe, MA, art therapist at National Jewish Health. “Our study shows that art therapy for children with severe, chronic asthma is clearly beneficial. Our results were striking and persisted for months after treatment stopped.”