Restorative and "nourishing" exercises from art therapy for oncology patients

Dagmar Brauer, Josef Ulrich

Last update: 08.08.2023

Oncological diseases involve phases for affected people in which there can be loss of appetite, weight loss and great loss of vigour as a result of metabolic disorders. In an advanced stage, the risk of cachexia sets in. Degenerative processes outweigh the generative ones to a considerable extent, which can be seen not only on the physical level but also on the psychological and cognitive-spiritual level (1). Cancer patients with nutritional disorders or in a cachectic situation require multimodal therapy, first and foremost nutritional, movement and medicinal therapy. As a supportive therapy, therapeutic painting and modelling offers a range of restorative, metabolism-stimulating and "nourishing" exercises, some of which are mentioned here as examples (2). In this context these exercises do not stand alone, but art therapists – like the team of therapists in Anthroposophic Medicine in general – consider the person individually with their illness, including their soul and spiritual needs.

Enabling their creativity to be valued, fostered and further developed in a variety of ways is not necessarily linked to their physical condition (3). There are oncological patients who in extreme physical decline live out their creativity in a meaningful way – be it in the development of their thoughts, in their emotional experience or in their own artistic activity – even in situations where their health is very unstable; this is perceived as a positive situation by relatives and the supporting environment, but above all by the patient themselves. Art therapy offers many possibilities to support people in this.

Therapeutic recommendations for "nutrition" with the help of a person's own development of creativity

  • Painting therapy exercises in the wet-on-wet technique on a small picture format
    Paper size in postcard format or up to 20 x 20 cm. Simple colour options or motifs; for example, create a green hill in curving (upbuilding) brush movements and above it – in the same movement gesture – a golden-yellow to light-red sunrise (Ill. 1).
    Green tones have an invigorating effect on the soul and life body, the bright red tones an activating one (4, 5). A convex growth gesture underlies the coloured semi-curves.  

  • A mindfulness-based motif is painting green grasses with the colours blue and yellow. Starting at the lower edge of the picture, short, broad strokes of colour – grasses – are painted in rows from left to right: first with blue, then in the same way painting the yellow over the blue, so that the invigorating mixed colour green emerges.

  • Colour meditations with individual or several colours, depending on the preference of the patient. Such stimulated colour development can lead to inner peace and gathering of strength, to joy and gratitude. Orange and red as single colours have a stimulating, invigorating and warming effect. And the life body benefits from the positive soul feelings when painting, because "painting is based on the fact that the inner impulses of the astral body are forced into the etheric body" (6). 


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Ill. 1: Sunrise over green hill


  • Drawing therapy exercises with pastel crayons
    Pastel powder pictures can be prompted by memory motifs or wishes of patients. The soft colour material is easy to apply and spread with the fingers. It helps that the painting activity is not experienced as a strenuous one, but as one to be enjoyed.

  • Picture dictation
    The therapist makes themselves available as an extension of the patient’s hand. Perception, being involved in the movement, experience, feeling, giving meaning, deciding and volition remain activities of the person painting indirectly. Patients often ask for a biographical situation that is important to them to be depicted in painting or drawing.

  • Metal colour light applications
    Metal colour light applications in oncology are based on more than 20 years of experience, documentation and evaluation (7). To stimulate the internal light metabolism, the golden and iron-green colour windows were used for breast carcinoma patients. In front of the colour windows – whose colour is produced from metals – patients have a perception of luminous experiences in their soul which convey certain life forces: refreshment, warming, upliftment and/or strengthening (7, p. 224).

  • Clay sphere
    Place a small amount of clay in one palm (heart space of the hand) and ask the patient to alternately and rhythmically form a sphere with the gentle pressure of both palms. In doing so, hold the clay in the lap, in the centre of the body. "I made a sphere and was happy." (8)

The unfolding of the creative forces in the human being contains a special potential that can be called upon even in an exhausted or drained state (8). If this succeeds, it releases the ill person from the fixation on and reduction to their deficit. Despite their extreme weakness, they can often rise above their suffering for minutes or longer in connectedness with their creative power and come alive in perception, thinking, feeling and acting. Their presence grows. 


  1. Debus M. Charakteristik der Krebserkrankung unter dem Gesichtspunkt der vier Wesensglieder des Menschen. In: Vademecum Anthroposophische Arzneimittel. Volume 2. Published by Gesellschaft Anthroposophischer Ärzte in Deutschland and the Medical Section of the School of Spiritual Science, Dornach/Switzerland. Munich: GAÄD; 2017, p. 880-894.
  2. See also Hegglin G, Mösch de Carvalho C, Ritter A, Staguhn J, Stenz H. Painting Therapy and Sculpture Therapy for Loss of Appetite, Nausea and Vomiting. Available at Anthromedics, Specialist Portal for Anthroposophic Medicine (11.09.2018).
  3. Ulrich S. Selbstheilungskräfte, Quellen der Gesundheit und Lebensqualität. 4th edition. Stuttgart: aethera® in Verlag Urachhaus; 2018.
  4. Brauer D, Mösch de Carvalho C. Das Erschöpfungssyndrom als Herausforderung in der Maltherapie mit onkologisch Erkrankten. Der Merkurstab 2017;70(5):400-405. DOI:
  5. Brauer D. Rudolf Steiner zur Wirkung von Einzelfarben – Ableitung von Indikationen für die Maltherapie als Aufgabe für die Praxisforschung. Der Merkurstab 2023 (in print).
  6. Steiner R. Kunst im Lichte der Mysterienweisheit. GA 275. Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag; 1990, p. 59.
  7. Altmaier M. Metallfarblichttherapie. Zur Forschung und Entwicklung einer neuen Therapie auf anthroposophischer Grundlage. Stuttgart: Verlag Johannes M Mayer; 2010.
  8. Kleinrath U, Bertram M. "Ich habe eine Kugel gemacht und war glücklich". Die Kugel als Aufgabenstellung in der Kunsttherapie. In: Bertram M, Kolbe HJ (Eds). Dimensionen therapeutischer Prozesse in der Integrativen Medizin. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien; 2016, p. 145-154.

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