STEPS, Supportive Therapies and Enhanced Palliative Care Services, is a pediatric palliative care program which provides medical, mental health and spiritual services with a goal of helping a child to be as comfortable as possible throughout the full course of her treatment.
At present, we are introducing the program into the pediatric intensive care unit of our hospital. I'm happy to say that art therapy is an integral part of the STEPS program.
I'm thrilled because I've long wanted to be able to participate in this continuum that begins with diagnosis and continues throughout the course of an illness.
Recently, I've had occasion to watch parents stand in front of their infant's cribs, hesitant to touch their babies, with all the tubes protruding from their tiny bodies. Helping parents to hold their child, no matter what the prognosis, is a challenge.
Art Therapy is about solving these kinds of challenges using creative activities which facilitate awareness and build confidence. What project might help parents to gather the self-assurance required to learn delicate skills, necessary to care for their babies?
In the right hands, the humble sock monkey* can become a powerful vehicle for boosting self confidence. I took up the challenge and created my own example, Oscar. As he emerged under my fingers, I was surprised by how his personality took shape and suddenly, there he was smiling back at me.
I found that cutting, stitching, stuffing and sewing require patience, coordination, imagination and a sense of humor. So I took Oscar and trialed my sock monkey experiment with some parents of young patients.
As I watched the parents sew, some of them stitching for the first time, it was a bit like watching a child take baby steps. Knots didn't hold, thread slipped out of the needle (multiple times!), but the parents were able to pick up again, laugh at their mistakes and sew on.
Laughing at our mistakes and persisting are some of the skills we employ as parents (those of you who are parents know, there is no shortage of opportunities to make mistakes!) Sock monkeys help parents to experience new skills and their own creativity in a relaxed, yet authentic way.
One of the founders of STEPS, Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin, said that the goal of STEPS is to "enhance care in body and spirit, coordinating resources to provide support, hope, healing and wellness." I look forward to watching the program unfold and the love and wisdom which will grow in the families and in our team as a result.
*For more information about sock monkeys, check out Art Therapist, Gretchen Miller's informative posts on sock monkeys here. For an excellent how-to video, you can look at Art Therapist Kat Thorsen's video here. Many thanks to both Gretchen and Kat for their inspiration and incredible service projects with sock monkeys.