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The Cancer Support Center of Bloomington offers free art and music therapy

The trauma of cancer affects everyone who touches it, and one center in Bloomington is offering free programs that can help ease the pain and provide a path through the process.

Inspired by the cancer support system in Indianapolis, Bloomington’s Cancer Support Community South Central Indiana offers art and music therapies – just two of many free programs – to local residents affected by cancer.

“We were amazed at the range of services offered and impressed with the (Indianapolis) organization,” said Dana Cattani. Cattani serves as a volunteer advisory board member at the Bloomington center and also serves on the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer planning committee.

Cattani was part of an exploratory group that toured the Cancer Support Community Indiana center in Indianapolis.

“Seven or eight years ago, Bloomington Hospital Foundation board members were looking for new ideas to help local cancer patients manage the physical, mental, social and financial burdens of treatment and survival,” she said.

When the opportunity arose, the newly renamed Bloomington Health Foundation and IU Health joined to invite Cancer Support Community to start a satellite cancer support center in Bloomington.

Why use art and music in a cancer center?

When people are facing a health crisis, words can be difficult to find, according to arttherapy.org. “Their own words or language fail them.”

Art and music therapies, on the other hand, can encourage clients to design and paint or sing what they think.

Art and music therapy are professional mental health fields. Therapists can help patients – and their support networks – when participants create projects that use psychology in a therapeutic relationship.

“Bailee Taylor is our open arts facilitator,” said Katie Tremel, program manager for Cancer Support Community South Central Indiana. “Bailee guides conversations while creating art.” Taylor might ask, “How was your week?” like splashes of blue-purple on a canvas.

Taylor is a licensed mental health therapist, licensed art therapist, and certified mental health counselor. She understands that traditional talk therapy can help, but for some people it just doesn’t work.

Someone working on a work of art can also give nonverbal cues through body language, cues that a trained social worker might recognize.

Making art and music can be effective for change, grief and trauma. One way is to allow the ‘artist’ to feel some degree of control while creating. The activities have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety – not just in people affected by cancer, but also in veterans with PTSD and tuberculosis isolates.

Art and music can ease pain because clients redirect thought patterns of fear or pain to the media they use.

Participants do not have to be “creative”.

You’re not artsy? There is some form of creativity in almost everyone. It helps to remember what types of art and music moved you as a child.

During sessions at the center, social workers introduce a range of media, including collage, paint, markers, pencils and clay. Some social workers bring pebbles, feathers and mosses. Others bring musical instruments and discover which musical styles appeal to which participants.

John Andrews-Carrico, a local business owner and U.S. Air Force veteran, discovered the Bloomington center while reading a brochure at the radiation clinic where he was receiving cancer treatment.

“I needed a little push to get to the center,” he said. His two siblings had died of cancer, and his daughter had struggled with it and survived.

‘My biggest fear of the center was walking through the front door that first time. But they are so excited that you are here.”

Andrews-Carrico has taken art classes at Ivy Tech in Bloomington and in private studios. He has used acrylic, oil paint and watercolor.

Music therapist Valerie Jones, a board-certified music therapist, also offers a group called Supportive Sounds once a month.

“During yoga and art and music therapy, people can feel safe,” Tremel said. “This is a crying zone. It’s safe to cry.”

“When you let people be creative, the endorphins flow,” says Andrews-Carrico. He has seen people in the Bloomington center “let something go while working on their artwork.” He compared those classes to “family reunions without potato salad.”

If you go

WHAT: Cancer Support Community South Central Indiana’s free programs to help those affected by cancer

WHERE: 1719 W. Third St. Turn immediately on your left from Landmark Avenue.

WHEN: Monday and Friday by appointment only and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm

FREE: All programs are free and open to anyone affected by cancer, including patients, survivors, family, friends and caregivers. Call 812-233-3286 or email [email protected] for more information.