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A narrative view of visual creative expression as psychosocial support for women with breast cancer Collie, Katharine Rosemary

Abstract

As breast cancer incidence and survival rates increase, there is an urgent need to make appropriate psychosocial support available to all women with breast cancer. In this qualitative study, narrative inquiry was used to examine how women with breast cancer used visual creative expression (art therapy and/or independent art making) to address psychosocial needs that arose for them after their diagnoses. Seventeen women, aged 37-82, participated in this investigation. Data analysis of in-depth interviews with these women focused on narratives they constructed about why they turned to art therapy and/or independent art making and how it helped to be involved in these activities. Particular attention was given to the issue of meaning making. Four storylines emerged from the analysis. "Art and art therapy as a haven" came from narratives about using art making or art therapy for comfort and affirmation. The narratives that comprised "getting a clearer view" were about using visual creative expression to create a clear picture of emotional experience. "Clearing the way emotionally" came from narratives about self-expression and about processing difficult emotions. The narratives that yielded "expanding and enlivening the self were about the women fortifying and energizing themselves through visual creative expression. Two minor themes related to the role of the art therapist and negative experiences with art therapy also emerged. In their narratives, the women portrayed visual creative expression as flexible, compelling, and powerful means of addressing multiple psychosocial needs simultaneously. Above all, the storylines show that the women valued visual creative expression as a way to reduce the feeling of threat to existence, to affirm present existence, and to promote the ongoing existence of both their psyches and their bodies. The results of this study contribute to the field of psycho-oncology by extending understandings of meaning making in relation to breast cancer, supplying detailed explanations from the perspectives of women with breast cancer of how visual creative expression can be helpful, and providing valuable insight into how psychosocial support services based on visual creative expression might meet needs of women with breast cancer that would not be met through other types of services.

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