BEIRUT: Dealing with breast cancer is a life changing experience, and for many in Lebanon, it’s a private battle. But two women are working to change that, using art to improve the lives of patients and survivors. “In Lebanon, the majority of patients rarely join a support group or seek out a specialist to talk about what they may be going through,” said Loryne Atoui, founder of One Wig Stand, an NGO raising awareness about breast cancer and providing support to those affected by it.
Friends and family often play a tremendous role in helping patients cope with their illness. “However, that support isn’t always enough when it comes to dealing with the deeper issues that can result from such a traumatic experience. Sometimes these issues may persist for years after treatment ends,” Atoui told The Daily Star.
To help change that reality, One Wig Stand has teamed up with art therapy center Artichoke Studio to launch support programs for breast cancer patients and their families.
One program, called Blossom, is the first art therapy workshop developed specifically for breast cancer patients and survivors in Lebanon. “Art therapy has a proven track record with cancer patients, but is still relatively a new approach [in the region] so the public is still learning about its benefits,” Atoui said.
Myra Saad, founder and director of Artichoke Studio, holds an MA in Expressive Therapies, specializing in art therapy and mental health counseling. She leads the Blossom sessions.
“This art therapy workshop offers a safe environment where breast cancer patients and survivors can express their feelings spontaneously and creatively, in a manner that is less threatening than verbal expression,” Saad told The Daily Star.
“Art therapy helps people express themselves, gain self-awareness and, eventually, change, all through the process of art making. Emotions like anxiety, anger, and grief can be externalized in the artwork,” she explained.
During the workshop, which spans eight sessions, two and a half hours each, participants engage in art themed activities related to health and sickness, body image, intimacy and other subjects. Various mediums including clay, collage, and drawing materials are used.
The focus is not on the aesthetics of the piece they make, but on allowing participants to relax and enjoy the process. “There’s no need for them to have any prior experience in art to benefit. The whole process provides them with a distraction from their physical and mental pain,” Saad said.
The women, many of whom share similar experiences, connect with each other over their art. With the guidance of Saad, they reflect on their artistic process, what their works mean to them, and the lessons that can be learned from their experience.
“They gain a deeper understanding of themselves, reconnect with their bodies, and cope better with stress,” Saad said.
Saad added that these experiences and metaphorical transformations can later be applied to life outside the therapy sessions.
Saad and Atoui look forward to expanding their joint endeavor. “As the concept is new, getting participants to sign up has been challenging. We hope that as more women find out about the tremendous benefits of art therapy, the numbers will increase,” Atoui said.
Atoui hopes the workshops will create opportunities for other projects too. “An exhibition of the work, with the participants’ agreement, would help raise awareness.”
“Art allows one to safely explore new ways of dealing with personal challenges,” Saad added.
Artichoke Studio, founded in 2014, is committed to providing art therapy for individuals and groups seeking to improve their mental health and self-development, and to promoting art therapy as a health service in Lebanon based on high professional and ethical standards.
The studio also offers art therapy for groups of children and adults going through tough times and seeking support. Individual sessions are available as well.
The Blossom workshop costs $145 for eight sessions, including the cost of materials.
To find out more about Blossom or to register for future workshops, contact the organizers at email@example.com. Telephone 03-545-281. 79-158-471 or visit www.artichokestudio.org.