Chase Child Life Program
Helps Heal through Art

Children with serious medical conditions often have trouble articulating their anxieties and fears in words. Art therapy at the Chase Child Life Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA gives children a creative outlet to express their feelings

“Art allows a child to communicate with me non-verbally about their illness,” says art therapist Carrie Cottone, who started working with UCLA pediatric patients in July. “The artwork helps us get the ball rolling to form a relationship that can help get them through their experience.”

The Chase Child Life Program provides pediatric inpatients and outpatients with support and educational experiences to help them cope with stressful medical events. The program employs child-life specialists, teachers and creative-arts specialists in art, music and dance.

“Our goal is to help children develop coping strategies while they’re receiving medical treatment and to ensure they continue to meet their developmental milestones,” says Amy Bullock, director of the Chase Child Life Program.

Carrie Cottone, UCLA art therapist

Child-life specialists use play and other tools to make sure preschool-aged children — whose growth and development may be limited by IVs and other medical devices — learn to sit up and walk, Bullock says.

“For school-aged children, we also have Los Angeles Unified School District teachers who make sure they are being supported cognitively as well as socially and emotionally,” she adds. “For them, it may mean learning math or keeping up with their world history in addition to being introduced to resources such as gaming or Skype — activities that are comparable to those of their peers.

”Cottone, who works with children every Wednesday and Friday, uses pen and ink, clay and paints in her art therapy sessions. “I like to give them a choice of materials because so often they feel so out of control in other parts of their lives,” she says.

Although Cottone often works with children at their bedside, she takes children to the Child Life play area or terrace whenever possible, “just to give them a change of scenery,” she says.

Children undergoing stressful medical treatments can be distracted from their pain or nausea by an art project. Cottone says, “It doesn’t happen every time, but I’ve seen some artwork change from dark and depressing to lively and colorful as the patient moves toward the end of their treatment.”