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Keeping creativity with creative solutions: BC Cancer art therapy moves online

With new COVID-19 guidelines in place, BC Cancer art therapist Sara Hankinson adopted an innovative approach to her art therapy sessions to steer towards the future.
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​As new COVID-19 guidelines came out across BC Cancer centres, art therapy groups (including the Young Adults Group, Children’s Group, and Art Studio groups) had to be cancelled. This meant transitioning art therapy groups in the midst of their programs and planning what the “new normal” would look like for these future programs. Sara Hankinson, art therapist at BC Cancer, began to lead groups virtually, using Zoom for Healthcare.

“We had to expand our definition of what art therapy is or could be,” says Sara. “We needed to re-envision away from traditional therapy. As art therapy sessions moved online, we transitioned to focusing more on the dialog around art images rather than creating art together.”

For the groups in progress, they had to quickly adapt to new virtual protocols. “With in person sessions, conversation happens organically when you’re in the same space,” she says. “Moving to online sessions, there is a new social code of conduct to follow, such as figuring out how to best make eye contact and encourage conversations that don’t naturally happen virtually. Getting used to taking turns speaking was something new for us.”

collection of flower drawings
The other challenge was adapting to using materials the participants had at home, but Sara solved this easily by focusing on drawing exercises and open-ended art 'homework'. 

“What I’ve done is incorporate mindfulness into art practice as many may be feeling more anxious during this time. As an example, for our last session, I went to the Coping with Cancer section on the BC Cancer website and played a video for participants, which offers a relaxation breathing exercise. We all watched the video together and that was really neat to be able to use the technology that way.”

She is currently working on a collaborative art project with group participants that she has titled ‘Flowers that Blossomed During COVID-19’.  The idea behind this project is to encourage participants to draw flowers found in their neighbourhood, spend time outdoors, and get taken by the beauty of a flower while they spend time drawing it.  It is also a different way of marking this time that we are in, realizing that spring is here. 

“I think the group felt good about this project. It was a difficult week for a lot of them but they left the session with a bit of excitement about the homework and how they might explore their neighbourhood and spend time with the flowers around them.”

One of the benefits of using a virtual platform for art sessions is that there is capacity to have larger group sizes. “I’m imaging an art journaling group which could have 20 to 30 people in it and it could be a lot more inclusive,” Sara shares.

Sara will be starting a new virtual class with meditation and art exercises for patients and caregivers. Sessions will be held weekly starting Thursday, May 7 from 1:30 – 3:00. To register or for more questions, please email Sara at


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