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Children, Asthma and the Power of Art Therapy


Participating in art therapy sessions can have a healing effect on children who have asthma, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. Children experienced less anxiety and fear both during the seven-week art therapy study and for months thereafter.

Although this was the first randomized study to examine the impact of art therapy on children who have asthma, another study conducted ten years ago looked at the relationship between children’s ability to perceive their asthma symptoms through drawings.

At the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center JFK Partners, investigators found that a specific clinical tool (Gabriels Asthma Perception Drawing Scales) was helpful in assessing children’s feelings and perceptions about asthma. Results indicated that girls verbalized significantly more feelings about their asthma and were better at identifying airflow changes in their small airways than boys.

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The National Jewish Health study included 22 children ages 7 to 14 who had persistent asthma. They were randomly assigned to attend one 60-minute art therapy session per week for seven weeks or to a control group. Children in the art therapy sessions were encouraged to discuss and express their feelings about their illness. Children in the control group completed evaluations only.

Art therapist Anya Beebe, MA, reported that their study “shows that art therapy for children with severe, chronic asthma is clearly beneficial,” even for months after the sessions ended. Children who participated in the art sessions demonstrated significant improvements in communication, problem solving, anxiety, quality of life, and self-concept scores. Benefits in anxiety and quality of life scores remained positive six months after the sessions had ended.

Approximately 9 percent of children in the United States have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Nine million US children younger than 18 have been diagnosed with asthma at some point during their lifetime. It is also estimated that 13 million school days are missed by children because of asthma.

In addition to asthma, art therapy is also used to help children express their feelings about other types of chronic illness and among children who have suffered abuse. Drawing and other art activities allow children to convey their feelings and ideas without words, which is helpful both for those too young to verbalize their feelings and those for whom it is too painful to express their emotions in words. “Art therapy can be a valuable adjunct to the treatment of a child’s physical illness,” noted senior author Bruce Bender, PhD, professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health.

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology
Gabriels RL et al. Journal of Asthma 2000; 37(7): 565-74
National Jewish Health news release May 12, 2010