A Group Art Therapy Initiative to Serve Women with Breast Cancer and Their Children in Mountain View, and Surrounding Santa Clara County Area

Graduation Date

Spring 2003

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


Lizbeth Martin, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Carolee Stabno, PsyD, MFT


There is strong evidence to support the idea that children of a parent with cancer suffer in ways unknown to the parent, which may negatively affect the child’s behavior, leading to the interruption of the mother-child bond. Treatment for children, even research studying the effects a parent’s cancer has on the children needs attention.

This literature review outlines the difficulties mothers have after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. Furthermore, it discusses what is involved prior to and after treatment, and how this may affect the relationship with her child. This review also examines the research focused on the psychological affects a mother’s diagnosis can have on her children. Through personal experience, this author discovered that treatment for children is not adequate in the Mountain View, California, Santa Clara County area and proposes to run an art therapy support group for mother's with cancer, and their child.

Art therapy is sadly underrepresented within the cancer support networks as the focus of treatment has been typically on the breast cancer patient using narrative therapy, creative visualization and verbal support. The purpose of the group is to assist in opening communication in a safe environment, identify possible parental shifts in parenting styles, and to promote new strategies and coping mechanisms that eventually will be determined by the mother and child. Participants will have the opportunity to seek advice and learn from the varied coping styles of other parents. As an integral part of the group, both mother and child will participate together in creating art projects that assist to uncover feelings, thoughts and perceptions difficult to verbalize for either the child or parent.