Smartist Marie Slone talks Cancer Survival and Art Therapy

I sat listening to Marie Slone, cervical cancer survivor and working mother of two give a presentation on the importance of art therapy with a bit of skepticism. Not because I didn’t believe in its value, but as someone who cannot even draw a decent stick figure, I didn’t think it could be something that would personally benefit me. But after following her instructions for one particular exercise-drawing my face with a line down the middle and illustrating on one side how I feel on the inside, and congruently how I feel I look on the outside to the world, I found myself a convert.

Naturally, I needed to know more.

“What exactly IS art therapy?” I asked her. “How would you describe it?”

“Just like regular art,” she explained, “art therapy can give you a deeper understanding of yourself while making it.” She went on to describe that it can be pursued in a group setting, where several individuals create art and talk about it together or it can be done one on one. Both with the goal of managing stress.

Marie discovered the benefits of art therapy for herself back in college. She was majoring in Art Studio and Art Education and found it helpful for dealing with her anxiety issues and then studied it further while obtaining her master’s degree for K-12 School Counseling. Years later when she was diagnosed with cancer, she then advocated for it to be part of her treatment at the Cleveland clinic where she was also receiving chemo and radiation, citing its past success for her.

And why was art therapy important to her during this time?

“I’m not always great at verbalizing. I’m much better at writing and expressing myself creatively. I’m very right brained. Sometimes we don’t have the words to express what we need or how we feel. Doing this helped me escape the anxiety I was feeling. I had radiation daily, chemo every week while I was away from home, away from my kids. I called it the cancer planet, that’s where I felt like I was living. The art therapy area was the only time I felt like a person and not a patient number.”

While there Marie painted tiles, made jewelry, drew pictures. One of her tiles is even part of an art installation at the clinic. Sometimes she had very direct one on one sessions or other times a much more freeform exercise of being given materials and let loose. Which she stresses is one of the main components of art therapy, the importance of “the process, not the end product.”

She explains this is why someone like me, without a hint of artistic skill, found comfort in the sketching exercise she instructed for me. It required me to think about how I saw myself and how others saw me and regardless of the drawing I completed, it opened my mind to a question I had not considered until it was posed. In fact Marie thinks that art therapy might even be more helpful to someone who isn’t artistically inclined. She stated to me that the first thing that gets thrown out when teaching an art class is the idea of “better art”. According to her “there’s no such thing as better art, there is only yours. Everyone will create unique products, and sometimes expressing yourself in a way you’re not used to, is how you can best tap into better communication.” The underlying message being that no one would judge my assuredly sad stick figure, the point is to just let go and express yourself.

This seems to be the exact reason why it’s also helpful for young children who have experienced emotional trauma. Marie notes that many kids who aren’t sure how to communicate accurately in these scenarios feel comfortable and relaxed while painting or playing with play-doh which can aid in getting them to open up.

And if you’re interested in checking out art therapy for yourself? Go to The American Art Therapy Association to look for locations. If there isn’t one close to you, Marie has found many art therapists have great boards up on Pinterest with suggestions for activities to do at home.

Marie Sloane

Photo furnished by Marie Slone.