Metastatic breast cancer means cancer has spread from the breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes to other organs, usually the liver, bones, or lungs.

While there’s no cure, treatment advances in recent decades have improved the outlook for those with a diagnosis of this type of cancer. More than one-third of people with metastatic breast cancer live at least 5 years after diagnosis, and some go on to survive another 10 years or longer.

Between diagnosis and treatment, metastatic breast cancer can be an overwhelming experience. You may have feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear, among others.

Art therapy, a type of mental health support, can help you cope with these feelings — and you don’t have to be an artist to participate.

Art therapy uses creative activities to help people with any type of health condition work through challenging thoughts and feelings. Also called expressive arts therapy or creative arts therapy, it’s based on the philosophy that art can be a tool for emotional healing.

Art therapy can be used as a way to express deep, unconscious concerns about cancer, make peace with emotional conflicts, boost your mood, and ease stress.

The goal of art therapy isn’t necessarily to create a masterpiece. It’s more about exploring and expressing complex emotions through artistic activities, like painting, drawing, sculpture, or collage.

Art therapy may also involve sharing your experience with a trained art therapist and other people with cancer in a supportive environment. You don’t need to have any artistic training, talent, or experience to benefit from art therapy.

Art therapy is typically facilitated by a master-level clinician trained in integrative mental health and human services, according to the American Art Therapy Association.

Sessions, which can be done on a one-on-one basis or as a group, take place in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, and community clinics.

While there’s no standard duration for a session, a review of research on art therapy published in Frontiers in Psychology looked at art therapy that lasted anywhere from a few minutes to 2.5 hours, with most sessions taking around an hour. You can participate in art therapy for a few weeks to months at a time.

An art therapist will usually ask you some questions to get to know your needs and expectations during your first session. Then, they’ll personalize your art therapy plan, including how frequently you will get together, the length of your sessions, and the purpose for each meeting.

Art therapists often provide the tools and materials you need for creative expression.

At each session, the art therapist may provide prompts to encourage you to express your emotions through art. They may also encourage you to use creative mediums to explore things like what your cancer looks like in your mind, the ways in which metastatic breast cancer has impacted your relationships with your family, and how life may look after your treatment ends.

While art therapy doesn’t specifically treat cancer, according to various studies, it can provide an array of complimentary benefits to people with metastatic breast cancer, such as:

  • decreased symptoms of distress
  • increased ability to cope with breast cancer
  • reduced signs of depression
  • improved quality of life
  • promoted positive body image
  • lowered rates of anxiety

According to Cancer Research UK, health professionals also believe that art therapy can help people with cancer diagnoses improve their relationships with others, boost their self-confidence, and take their mind away from pain.

One of best places to start your search for an art therapist is with your physician or your cancer care team. They may be able to refer you to an art therapist in your area.

The art therapist locator tools from the American Art Therapy Association and the Art Therapy Credentials Board can also help you find a credentialed professional near you.

Finally, consider asking members of any cancer support groups that you’ve joined for referrals to art therapists they’ve worked with.

Art therapy can be a powerful healing tool to help people cope with the challenges of a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and treatments.

Research has shown that art therapy can improve your quality of life, increase your ability to cope with cancer, and reduce your anxiety. Talk to your cancer care team or use the tools on the American Art Therapy Association’s website to find an art therapist near you.