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Art therapy at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley brings comfort and healing to cancer patients

News, Cancer

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 (Ukiah, CA) – Battling cancer can be one of the toughest challenges of a person's life. To help the healing process, Adventist Health Ukiah Valley is offering complimentary group art therapy classes every Friday.

The classes are offered free to patients who are impacted by cancer or other chronic medical illnesses and provides an opportunity for them to have a safe place to explore emotions as they cope.

These classes were made possible because of the generous support from several community partners working together including T.R. Eriksen Foundation, Community Foundation of Mendocino, Law Office of Duncan James as well as Adventist Health Ukiah Valley.

Susan Sweet, Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Art Therapist who teaches the class is a cancer survivor herself and continues to use art therapy in her own healing journey.

“When you get a cancer diagnosis, you feel a sense of loss, of not having control over anything. Art therapy can provide a sense of control when people are in a situation filled with many uncertainties. For example, patients choose how much or how frequently to participate, what materials to use, what colors and shapes, and what to share about their artwork.”

Studies have shown that art therapy is effective in reducing stress, exploring and expressing one’s thoughts and feelings, developing creative strategies for coping with cancer and other serious illnesses.

During art therapy classes, participants work on a variety of process-oriented projects designed to help them experience the fun, calming and organizing nature of art. “Art helps each patient develop their inner strength and identify self-soothing strategies to support peace of mind and ‘making meaning’ of their experiences.”

The program started out focusing on patients who are impacted by cancer, but has since expanded to include those with chronic medical issues. Since the program has started, they have served more than 75 patients in Mendocino County.

Jason Wells, president of Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, says the program is part of the hospital’s mission of inspiring health, wholeness and hope. “We believe in supporting our patients in the healing process beyond medical interventions. Cancer can be a difficult journey for anyone, so we want to provide tools that can help make the process a little bit easier.

Wells adds that the program is a true reflection of a community coming together for each other. “It takes tremendous work and investment to make programs like this possible. We are grateful to our partner organizations, the Community Foundation of Mendocino, T.R. Eriksen Foundation and Law Office of Duncan James for the substantial grants that support this essential program year after year.”

Sweet also incorporates journaling into the program. Research shows that taking as little as 20 minutes a month to write will produce long lasting benefits for a patient or caregiver’s physical and emotional health. “As we work on our art projects, patients are encouraged use their art therapy journals to write, collage and express their process. They often share their journal work during sessions, inspiring others and addressing universal issues they all share. We also engage in silk painting, collage, glass mosaics, scratch art, mono-printing, watercolor, acrylic, mixed media painting and much more!”

Aside from the healing benefits of art, Sweet says, making connections and supporting each other through the process have been especially beneficial for all participants.

“It helps knowing you’re not the only one going through or thinking the same thing. It helps to be able to articulate what you feel and know that the other person understands exactly what you’re going through.”

Offered every Friday, a new seven-week session starts on March 6 and will continue through April 17. Classes are held at the Alex Rorabaugh Center in Ukiah, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The program welcomes anyone in Mendocino County who has been newly diagnosed or is currently in treatment or post treatment and those who have other serious illnesses that might benefit from this therapy. There is a nominal $8 sliding scale fee for art materials. No artistic skill is necessary. Since space is limited, participants must register. For more information or to register, contact Sue Sweet, MFT-ATR at 707-671.5122 or email