Art therapist Matilda (Tilly) Dawson is passionate about helping patients connect with their creativity.

Having worked in oncology at the Royal Children’s Hospital since 2017, Tilly now divides her time between the two hospitals. 

Tilly utilises her Masters of Art Therapy and psycho-oncology training to develop a new art therapy inpatient program for Peter Mac, while sharing this special form of therapy with patients. 

At a time when people sometimes feel powerless, art therapy can help patients relax, reconnect with their sense of self, and experience a sense of control and mastery.

It also helps patients to detangle thoughts, Tilly describes this as, “getting it out of your brain and onto the page”.  

“Art therapy is not about making a finished product or making something aesthetically beautiful, it’s about the process of art making and its therapeutic benefits,” she explains.

“It’s about exploring different mediums. We’re trained to know which mediums illicit different emotions and experiences. Watercolour is very calming and relaxing. If we want to calm your emotions we’ll use a fluid medium like painting, and if you need tactile engagement or need get something out, we might use a clay or a medium with physical resistance.”

“We often reflect throughout the art making, and if the patient would like to share some insights at the end, I can take them through the process of exploring their work.” 

Art therapy is often provided at a patient’s bedside with sessions varying in length from 30 to 90 minutes. 

Patients who are experiencing loss of function or are feeling unwell can participate, with Tilly delivering what is called ‘Art on the Behalf’ therapy – that is, working with patients to create art under their direction.  

“Often people can’t believe what they can do or how well they can engage,” Tilly says.

“I think when you see somebody in absolute awe and pride at what they can create after having such a long time of not engaging with artwork or losing function or control…it’s such a beautiful gift.

Peter Mac also offers drop-in group art therapy sessions for patients and carers, on Wednesday afternoon in the Wellbeing Centre on level 1 (Parkville). Find more information here