Women with a history of breast cancer have an increased risk of anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction and other issues, but art therapy has been shown to provide beneficial results, including the ability to help cancer survivors cope with the uncertainty of their position.

Researchers in Sweden conducted a follow-up study 5 years after a randomized controlled study of art therapy and breast cancer to learn more about the long-term effects of a time-limited art therapy program on patient’s self-reported self-image and their self-reported psychophysical distress/psychic symptoms. Their results were published in Palliative and Supportive Care.

The original study included 20 women in an intervention group and 22 women in a control group. The intervention group participated in a 5-week art therapy program at a hospital in northern Sweden between 2001 and 2004. Eighteen women from the intervention group and 19 from the control group agreed to participate in the follow-up study.

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The researchers hoped to learn more about 2 specific questions:

  • How much has a participant’s perceived self-image, according to the Social Analysis of Social Behavior (SAsB), changed or remained the same?
  • How much has a participant’s perceived psychophysical distress/psychic symptoms, according to the SCL-90 (Symptom Check List) changed or remained the same?

The researchers hoped to compare the assessments to each participants’ previous scores but also to the groups. Ultimately, they found no significant differences between the women in the 2 different groups when it came to the perceived psychophysical distress/psychic symptoms question. However, the researchers did find that women in the art therapy intervention group had “significantly higher” ratings on the SASB self-rating scale compared with the women in the control group.

“The triangular relationship between the patient, the therapist, and the picture in art therapy made it possible to reflect over emotions, memories and experiences,” the researchers wrote. “This led to lasting insights and deeper understanding. The long-term effects of time-limited art therapy are, to our knowledge, not found elsewhere.”

The study is limited by a relatively small sample size, which limits the generalizability of the findings.

Disclosures: Some authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.


Thyme KE, Tavelin B, Oster I, and Wiberg B. Art therapy and self-image: a 5-year follow-up art therapy RCT study of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Palliat Support Care. 2022:20;482-490. doi:10.1017/S1478951521001437