Many patients who prefer hospice care in their homes surrounded by loved ones die in hospitals. One study by Macmillan Cancer Support found that only 1% of patients want to die in a hospital, but more than 33% die in a hospital. For patients in hospice care, home settings might be preferable. Receiving hospice care can have multiple benefits for patients, including;
- Greater satisfaction for both the patient and their family
- Reduce healthcare costs
- Increase quality of care
Home hospice care doesn’t mean the patient’s family and friends take the burden of care alone. Professionals, including nurses, therapists, and physicians, are intricately involved. Home hospice art therapy is a valid and effective approach to end-of-life care in many parts of the country.
Many myths and misconceptions about art therapy often extend to home hospice art therapy. Even more, it’s essential to consider the cultural relevance of home hospice art therapy. In this article, you’ll learn more about home hospice art therapy, its importance, and common myths and misconceptions.
The History of Art Therapy in Hospice Care
Humans have used art as a form of expression for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that art found its way into the healthcare system. Art That Heals was one of the earliest movements to propel art therapy into improving patients’ quality of life and health. They used art therapy as an approach to reduce stress for oncology patients at the UCLA Cancer Center.
The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) dedicates itself to researching art therapy related to palliative care. Art therapy has robust research backing thanks to multiple studies for end-of-life care, especially for illnesses such as cancer, chronic heart failure, and HIV/AIDS. While other approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, have even more robust scientific evidence, art therapy has come a long way, especially in palliative care.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the AATA has about 5,000 art therapists. Some are employed in public and private healthcare setups. Others offer home hospice art therapy as independent professionals. Home hospice art therapy takes multiple modalities, including
- Working with visual art materials such as drawing, collage, molding with clay, finger painting, doodling, and sculpturing
- Drama therapy
- Music therapy
- Dance therapy
The Cultural Relevance of Art Therapy in Home Hospice Care
Multiple studies have highlighted the relevance and significance of art therapy in coping with physical, emotional, social, and existential conflicts that come with serious illness. Patients in hospice care have about six months or less to live, and the whole hospice philosophy is focused on making peace with the reality of death.
Art therapy can help patients and their loved ones prepare for an end-of-life reality. Let’s look at ways art therapy is relevant for patients in home hospice care by helping them cope with different types of conflicts associated with end-of-life.
1. Confronting Existential Conflicts
According to Hospice Wise, hospice care typically lasts six months, but the period depends on the illness. Among the most challenging parts of hospice is dealing with existential conflicts, especially when patients face mortality. One of the cultural relevance of home hospice art therapy is helping patients come to terms with their mortality. Art therapy isn’t a passive distraction. Instead, it helps the patient confront and address existential conflicts in their mind.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, drawing with an art therapist helps a patient move past feelings of dread and existential anxiety to an accepting fluid awareness of the dying process. Patients who go through 22 sessions twice a week also develop better meaning-making.
Death has always been a culturally-sensitive issue. Some cultures avoid talking about death altogether. However, art is an excellent way to promote self-expression. Through art therapy, patients can express what’s difficult to express in words. It’s an acceptable way to talk about death.
If a patient doesn’t have long to live, they must prepare themselves and their families psychologically and financially. Once a patient gains acceptance for the death process, they can make a plan for their estate, for example, by hiring a probate lawyer to offer counsel to their chosen executor. Home hospice art therapy makes such processes much easier.
Another essential role of art therapy is helping the patient relax. Home hospice doesn’t mean the patient has given up. Yet, the patient and their loved ones may be in a constant state of tension. An art therapist can help a patient release tension through a creative process.
2. Coping With the Physical Realities of Serious Illness
With chronic illness comes physical realities such as reduced mobility, sensorimotor functions, and pain. Medical approaches often include medication, more hospital visits, and aids. However, art therapy is also a scientifically approved approach to coping with the physical realities of serious illness in end-of-life care.
At this stage, more hospital visits, infusions, and elaborate curative measures can bread more confusion and pain. According to the AATA, art therapy can be both a distraction and support for improving sensorimotor functions. For example, sculpturing with materials such as clay or glass from glass companies can improve the ability to grasp and hand-to-eye coordination.
Some people may mistakenly perceive art therapy as a ‘constructive escapism.’ However, art therapy is way more than a distraction. It is an enjoyable and enlightening practice that takes the patient’s mind away from their pain to a creative discourse. Creating something new gives patients a euphoric feeling that improves pain management.
One study published in the Arts in Psychotherapy involving 200 patients in recovery found improvement in moods and lower pain levels. Pain for home hospice care patients makes them feel out of control because pain dictates what they can do. However, with the help of an art therapist, patients can regain a sense of control. Since art therapy is like art classes, the art therapist is professionally trained to help patients draw from art to cope with their reality.
An art therapist can even help patients express their pain through art. For example, a patient can paint a painting expressing their physical pain. They can also make a sculpture for a loved one, for example, a tree with supplies from Christmas tree stores. It will provide a distraction while restoring their sense of control.
3. Coping With Social Conflicts
Patients in home hospice care have to respond to social realities arising from a physical illness. For example, loved ones may be at a loss about the likelihood of losing their patience. The family may be undergoing financial challenges, for example, if pension plan audits reveal discrepancies.
Yet home hospice art therapy can help patients cope and thrive socially. Here are three ways art therapy is cultural relevance for home hospice:
- Enriches human experience with psychotherapeutic relationships
- Helps caregivers through the grief process
- Work on social skills
Enriching Human Experience
The patient is engaged in a prolonged relationship with an art therapist. For example, in one study on AATA, a patient did two sessions each week for 22 weeks. The psychotherapeutic relationship enriches the lives of both the therapist and the patient.
The patient typically interacts with medical professionals for most of their time in care. Non-medical professionals are interested in their safety, for example, by installing an electronic enclosure to prevent fires. However, the art therapist is a different kind of professional. In addition, they are engaged in a potentially fun activity enjoyed by people who are not ill.
Helping Caregivers Grieve
Sometimes, the caregiver in hospice care is forgotten as an active participant in the dying process. They are engaged fully in providing care. Yet art therapy is not for the patient only. That’s why it’s culturally relevant, especially considering that most caregivers are family members.
One study by Indiana University evaluated the role of art therapy in hospice care in the grieving process and developed a grieving program. Through the program, caregivers can find meaningful self-expression and self-awareness critical in grieving. Therefore, art therapy is helpful even for caregivers, especially when the patient passes on.
Improving Social Skills
As the patient goes through an art therapy program, they find tools that help them improve their self-expression, self-awareness, and confidence, which are crucial for maintaining social relationships. At this stage, having positive and meaningful relationships is critical.
4. Coping With the Emotional and Psychological Conflicts Associated With End-of-Life
Lastly, home hospice art therapy is culturally relevant because it promotes skills for coping with psychological realities that come with chronic illnesses. Here are three ways art therapy helps patients in home hospice cope:
- Improves cognitive and sensorimotor functions
- Fosters self-esteem and self-awareness
- Cope with stress
Misconceptions of Home Hospice Art Therapy
Although art therapy has been around for almost a century, it’s still crowded with myths and misconceptions. If you’re considering home hospice art therapy for a loved one, here are five misconceptions to be on the lookout for
1. It’s Just Drawing and Painting
Art therapy in hospice care isn’t simply arts and crafts. It’s a whole profession with rigorous training. Therapists who practice in hospice and palliative care need certifications and supervised training.
2. You Need to Be a Creative Artist
You don’t need to have had a career in the arts to go through art therapy. It may even be challenging for some patients to go through art therapy. Art therapists work with a patient in their context and abilities.
3. Art Therapy Is Only for Children
A common misconception is that art therapy is for children and seniors. Anyone can go through art therapy, even people on end-of-life care. Art is like a language, and language knows no age. Anyone can do it.
4. Art Therapy Is Like an Art Class
Art therapy is not like an art class. First, an art therapist has to be professionally trained. Second, art therapists aren’t trying to teach a patient. They aim to assist the patient in coping with the psychological and existential realities of having a chronic illness.
5. Art Therapy Is Rehabilitation
The aim of home hospice art therapy isn’t rehabilitation or cure. It’s coping. While rehabilitation might be a possible outcome, art therapists aim to help their patients cope.
Home Hospice Therapy and End-of-Life Planning
Some patients do recover and get better during hospice care. However, death is always a looming reality, and home hospice art therapy is an efficient and less-formal approach to planning for end-of-life. It helps the patient be in a relaxed state of mind that’s helpful when planning for end-of-life. For example, if the patient owned a truck accessory shop, they can make arrangements for estate distribution when in a good state of mind. Caregivers may also need help processing emotions in readiness for planning a funeral planning.
While art therapy isn’t the all-in-all in preparation for end-of-life, it can help the patient and caregiver accept the reality of death and make funeral preparations that match the patient’s wishes. For example, they might prefer to wear certain clothes or a specific custom jewelry design.
If the patient has a fluid state of mind that’s relaxed in the last days, they can lay out specific details that’ll be helpful when planning for a funeral. Depending on their beliefs, they may prefer an environmentally-friendly send-off, such as an organic coffin or coffin made from metal recycling operations.
Many patients in hospice would prefer a home-setting option. Home hospice art therapy can be the lifeboat that sails them to the end of life. In a culture where death and the dying process are still difficult topics to tackle, art therapy can help improve coping skills such as self-awareness, self-expression, and social skills.
It’s essential to note that art therapy is a recognized profession with a body of solid scientific evidence on its efficacy. Still, art therapy isn’t heavily incorporated into America’s healthcare system, as reflected in the small number of art therapists in the U.S. However, you can consider home hospice art therapy for your loved one.