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ART FEEL: Olimpia Petzold leads free art therapy at Canopy

August 24, 2018

An art maven’s weekly fix of the local arts scene: what to see, what to hear, what to do, who to meet and musings about how art makes people feel—their Art Feel.

For the past two years, Olimpia Petzold has been leading a program called HEART: A Healing Arts Program at Canopy, a first-of-its-kind cancer survivorship center in the greater Houston area, located on the campus of the Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. Since 2016, Canopy’s mission has been to provide the finest support, education and integrative medical services to all those impacted by cancer regardless of where patients are receiving treatment. Petzold is a volunteer at Canopy. She is not paid to lead the bimonthly art therapy classes.

Petzold was born in Belgium and studied clinical psychology in Venezuela, received her master’s degree in neuroscience in Spain and is now a doctoral candidate assigned at the Psychosomatic and Psycho-Oncology Research Unit of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. She also studied specific courses in Art Therapy at the Haute Ecole Libre de Bruxelles. Her research activities focus on the study of evaluation and treatment of psychological factors in cancer patients, through the use of art therapy. She is also an artist and arts enthusiast who moved to The Woodlands in 2014 with her family.

“An art project is an extension of ourselves, it comes from within us,” Petzold said. “Art therapy gives three gifts to those who participate in it: one, a sense of control; two, a feeling of satisfaction (and) peace: and, three, over time, a sense of community/belonging to a group.”

Cancer battlers often feel out of control. They feel controlled by the illness itself and the various doctor and lab appointments that dictate the makeup of their days. Producing an art project in a given time constraint gives the person something to control. This is very important, she said.

Petzold said people battling cancer at any stage often feel in limbo and unsatisfied. They make it to a specific milestone only to have another milestone to now strive for. There can be vast feelings of unrest and despair - feeling they have not really accomplished anything at all (although they have).

Art therapy participants feel report feeling satisfied after finishing an art project and/or series of them, and this accomplished feeling has tremendous value when battling such an insidious disease, she added. Being part of the art therapy group over time builds friendships, trust and gratitude which creates a community of people who like one another and depend on each other.

Woodlands resident Rowena Hayes is a breast cancer survivor who attends Petzold’s HEART Arts Healing Program.

“During my diagnosis and treatment, I spent my time suppressing my own emotions, so I could be strong for my family,” Hayes said. “It’s only now, through art, that I am just beginning to express my own feelings about what I experienced and the daily fear I live with that the cancer might return.”

Each art therapy exercise is different. Some of art exercises Petzold designs involve visualizing healing specific parts of the body. For example, she might ask participants to draw a picture of themselves with a healthy organ(s) without cancer. Other times, the art assignment is more “open” with her asking the group to paint what they would bring onto their ideal island.

“The Butterfly Cycle” assignment has Petzold talking to her students about the life cycle of a butterfly (from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly) and then asking each survivor to produce a piece of art that indicates what stage they feel they are at with their cancer. For example, someone who was recently diagnosed might identify with the beginning stage of the butterfly life cycle, so he/she might sculpt a caterpillar out of clay or for someone who is in remission they might create a butterfly in flight with paint on a canvas.

You do not have to be in treatment at Memorial Hermann to be a part of the Canopy community. Everyone touched by cancer is welcome (the patient, the spouse of, the children of, the friends of anyone battling a cancer diagnosis). Canopy is free and open to the public.

Thank you to Olimpia Petzold for donating your expertise, time and energy to the healing arts at Canopy which in turn elevates lives above a cancer diagnosis.

To learn more about Canopy, please call 713.897.5939 or visit www. woodlandscanopy.org.

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