Keke and Jordan struggle to remember the last time they weren’t in pain. For both, it’s been more than five years. Art therapist Sue Worthington-Duffy, MA, ATR-BC, asks them to imagine being pain-free and how they might represent that on paper.
“I’d probably put a bird flying up free,” says Keke, 11. She flips through magazines, looking for just the right bird to clip out for her wellness book.
Keke and Jordan, 15, have endured amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, but they are at CHOP for an intensive daily program, lasting weeks, to overcome it with physical therapy complemented by activities like art therapy group.
In their wellness books, each child finds artistic ways to express his or her physical, emotional, spiritual and social wellness.
“They’re taking an ordinary book and altering it, just as they’re here altering and changing their bodies’ response to pain,” says Worthington-Duffy.
While groups are one side of art therapy, other patients have individual sessions.
Today, art therapist Lindsay Ratushny, MA, ATR, works with Marlon, 8, who comes for dialysis three times a week. He must sit immobile for hours. Ratushny tells Marlon he is going to write and illustrate a story, and it can be about whatever he wants.
Marlon selects a purple marker and begins to create and draw the story of a boy named Rockstar who was at the mall buying groceries, then drives home with his dad. Ratushny smiles when Marlon tells her that at home, Rockstar lives with his two brothers — also named Rockstar — and two sisters, both named Prada.
The activity gives Marlon a sense of control and mastery over something, helping him cope with the difficulty of missing school and sitting still.
How would Marlon describe his art therapy? “It’s fun,” he says, with a knowing nod. “I like to play games and do art with Miss Lindsay.”