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Cancer center offers patients free art therapy
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Hear counselor Randall Overdorff talk about how art therapy works.
Treating cancer patients requires addressing the needs of body, mind and soul.

As part of a more holistic approach, the Cancer Center at the Longstreet Clinic is offering free art therapy sessions to cancer patients and survivors on Thursday and again on Feb. 21.

"It’s open to people at any stage of their cancer experience," said Longstreet spokeswoman Jullie King. "We’re trying to expand the offerings that we provide to help patients heal. In March, we’re going to offer yoga."

Thursday’s art session is from 10 to 11:30 a.m.; the Feb. 21 session is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Preregistration is required.

The groups will be led by Randall Overdorff, a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist in Gainesville.

Overdorff said art therapy is helpful for people with a wide variety of emotional issues, but it’s particularly beneficial for those with cancer.

"With cancer, there is such a difficult pathway through diagnosis and treatment," he said. "The amount of worry that goes with that is intense, and people who have not gone through that experience may not understand."

This can make cancer patients feel isolated, Overdorff said, even if they’re surrounded by friends and family. Art therapy in a group setting "helps validate their experience so they don’t feel alone."

The first misconception about art therapy, he said, is that you have to have artistic talent.

"No art experience is needed," he said. "In art therapy, there are some basic rules, and one is that every work of art is right, because you made it this way."

Children are natural artists, Overdorff said, and they have frequent opportunities to create art during school classes or extracurricular activities. But by the teenage years, most people become frustrated if their artistic ability doesn’t achieve the standard they desire, and they abandon their efforts.

When adults attend Overdorff’s classes, they are typically a bit self-conscious and hesitant about the process at first.

"I’ll have a warm-up that gets them going," he said, noting that once he brings out the crayons, paints and other materials, it brings back good feelings from childhood, and people begin to get excited about the possibilities.

Enduring cancer seems to light an inner fire in some patients.

"When folks are under a lot of stress, you’ll see that expressed in their artwork," Overdorff said. "Some people create works that are quite elaborate."

And being around others who are doing the same thing seems to fuel their creativity.

"In a group setting, art therapy provides a source of social support," he said. "Even when the topic is very serious, doing this activity in a group can be invigorating. It kind of unlocks people emotionally, and helps them to express things they weren’t able to verbalize."