Expressive therapy continues for childhood cancer patients during COVID-19 pandemic

The expressive arts team, part of Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, ​supports childhood cancer patients with music, art and massage therapy as they undergo treatment at Norton Children’s Hospital. The team has modified these normally hands-on, in-person therapy sessions to continue helping immunocompromised patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While precautions such as visitor restrictions are necessary to protect these high-risk patients, the stress and fear of belonging to a vulnerable population makes therapy more important than ever before. These sessions help to facilitate a comprehensive healing process, building up patients’ mental and emotional wellness. Having the chance to relax and separate from one’s medical struggles is critical for maintaining the strength and composure necessary for a fight with cancer. Benefits of expressive therapy include improved sleep and appetite, pain relief and increased relaxation.

Expressive and music therapy continue during a pandemic

Laura Chamberlin, expressive therapist, and Brett Northrup, music therapist, found a creative solution to meet Norton Children’s Cancer Institute patients’ needs when they began recording virtual therapy sessions to help the kids cope with stress and anxiety.

“Art-making has the power to transform our negative feelings of fear, helplessness, anger and sadness into a creative product instead of acts of aggression or despair. This sublimation, or redirection, is a main goal of expressive therapy,” Laura said.

Amid backdrops of the woods and the night sky with a unicorn, the pair recorded videos featuring soothing piano music from Brett and watercolor painting instruction form Laura. These videos are streamed daily to the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center inpatients at Norton Children’s Hospital and to pediatric cancer survivors and their families through the 7 West Warriors Facebook group.

Massage therapists Erin Love and Christy Massey provided a live video lesson on breathing, meditation and yoga to reduce stress for patients and their families. Brett provided calming guitar music in the background. Elizabeth Sanders Martin, an expressive therapist, has helped with videos as well.

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

Norton Children’s offers advanced pediatric cancer care

(502) 629-7725

“We all work together with our therapeutic creative strengths to support patients,” Laura said.

The team also posts daily affirmations to provide encouragement during this difficult time.

“As we are social distancing and socially isolating, we are still united in our search for comfort, meaning and beauty found in the arts. This virus cannot touch our creativity and imagination, all the amazing things we can envision and create with our hands and hearts,” Laura said. ​

Showing resiliency in the face of adversity is a fitting tribute to the patients the therapy team serves. After all, health care heroes always roll with the punches and maintain continuity of care. Even when things are tough, they still must find ways to meet the individual needs of their patients.

“We’re learning how our therapies can meet you where you are and hopefully help to create ‘new normals’ in times of stress, and during life-changing events,” Brett said.


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