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Art therapy and social function in palliative care patients: a mixed-method pilot study
  1. Cédric Lefèvre,
  2. Guillaume Economos,
  3. Colombe Tricou,
  4. Élise Perceau-Chambard and
  5. Marilene Filbet
  1. Department of Palliative care, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon, France
  1. Correspondence to Professor Marilene Filbet, Palliative care, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 69008, France; marilene.filbet{at}


Objectives To evaluate the influence of art therapy in reducing palliative symptoms, on social availability and on perceptions of aesthetics in hospitalised palliative care patients. The secondary objective was to evaluate its influence on bereaved families.

Methods A mixed-method quasi-experimental before and after study comprising a follow-up postal survey of bereaved families. All patients who were keen to have art therapy sessions were eligible. We used patient-reported outcome scales 5 min before and after the session. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale has been used for pain, anxiety, well-being, fatigue and depression. Ten-point visual analogue scales were used for social availability, lack of desire and wishes, and perceptions of aesthetics based on the Beautiful–Well–Good model. A postal survey was sent to bereaved families. Correlations and data mining analyses were performed.

Results In all, 24 patients were recruited for a total of 53 art therapy sessions analysed. Seven families completed the survey. Art therapy significantly reduced the assessed symptoms and overall symptom distress by 54.4% (p <0.001, d = 1.08). It also decreased the feeling of social unavailability (−59%, d = 0.67) and the lack of desire and wishes (−60%, d=0.86). The analysis of the family questionnaires indicates the positive effects regarding support, artwork and feelings during illness and grief.

Conclusion Our results suggest an overall improvement in the symptoms experienced and social functioning of palliative patients. Based on our findings, we propose a model for the potential mechanism of action of art therapy.

  • art therapy
  • cancer
  • palliative care
  • symptoms and symptom management
  • aesthetics
  • complementary therapy

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Data are available upon reasonable request sent to the corresponding author.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Data are available upon reasonable request sent to the corresponding author.

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  • CL and GE contributed equally.

  • Contributors CL: designed the study, provided the art therapy sessions, reviewed the manuscript. GE: analysed the data, drafted the manuscript. CT: designed the study, collected the data. EP-C: supervised the study and reviewed the manuscript. MF: designed the study, supervised the study, reviewed the manuscript (contributor responsible for the overall content).

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.