Touching Art Therapy Story from Akron Children’s Hospital

In this blog post we are sharing with you a story from art therapist Emily Grabo. Emily Grabo is a Board-Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC) and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Ohio specializing in pediatric medical art therapy, grief and loss, substance abuse, and trauma informed care. She graduated from Ursuline College in 2014 with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling. She has been proudly serving families, children, and staff as the Art Therapy Coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, OH since 2017. This post is a transcription from a livestream we did with Emily, enjoy! 


Story from Akron Children’s Hospital

“I think stories are such a powerful way to share experiences and to really help educate people about all kinds of things, and particularly about Expressive Therapies.” 


“This is a story about a little girl that I met early on at Akron Children’s Hospital, probably back in 2017-2018. This particular young lady was just about four years old and she was very sassy and very strong-willed. She was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. When I first met her, we really worked to do a lot of things that would just be fun and kind of build rapport and trust. 

When you come to the hospital, your whole world changes, especially with a diagnosis of Neuroblastoma. You are then being told that you’re going to have things like chemotherapy, nurses that are poking you, people that are touching you and listening to you. 


You’re not really in control

I think growing up, we often teach children that your bodies are your own and you’re in control over your body. Then it is particularly shocking to be thrown into a situation where all of a sudden you’re not really in control over your own body and people are telling you how to care for your body. They have to touch you, to listen to your heart and they need to look at your surgical wounds. And so all of a sudden your body doesn’t exactly feel like your own. 

And so, a lot of what we did together was really about giving her control and giving her choices because in the hospital she didn’t have a lot of control. She didn’t have a lot of choices because so much of her life was being controlled.


The therapy process

“When I think of this little girl, I think of glitter and let me tell you, we used glitter probably almost every session.”

It was interesting how she was often very quiet and I would wonder to myself if I really was connecting with this child. I would think:


She always said yes to our sessions and she let me come back. 

She’s open to ideas that I have. 


We would use art to give a little bit of that power back to her, so I would offer glitter, paint, and a lot of things. When she was here, I would see her every admission and we would have our art therapy sessions together but again, she would remain just very quiet. 

Often it was just her and I, those would be the times that her mom would feel comfortable that she could step away. We would work and I would watch her use the materials. She would get real kind of messy sometimes and we’d have to reign it in a little bit. I would provide a little bit of containment and a little bit of structure when she needed it.


Complications and Revelations

Until one day, she was in the hospital and she had a complication from her treatment. Typically in the hospital, I work from a consult list so pretty much I usually know where somebody is in the hospital. So, I was aware that she had a room change and noticed she was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. 

I wondered why she was not on the oncology floor. 

I then went off to see a different patient but noticed that I was getting paged. So, I came back to my office and I looked at my pager and it was a nurse from the Oncology unit asking that I call her back. I then called back and she told me, 

“This little girl was transferred to the PICU. I think you know her and she is just beside herself worried that you won’t be able to find her in the hospital.” 

I was actually a little bit surprised  by that at first. I knew she was saying yes to our sessions and I had hoped that she was getting something from them but again, she was so quiet. She hardly said a word when we were together. And so I thought to myself, 

“Oh! Let me run down to the PICU and I’ll go check on her!”

So, I did. And that’s something that I think about a lot that really stuck with me.”


Part 2 of this story is coming soon! Thank you for reading! 


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L. Samuel Gracida

L. Samuel Gracida

Samuel is Sam's Fans Operating Director and our primary blogger!

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