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By Paola Luzzatto

Attending Art Therapist, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

"The soul is rediscovering its dreams" (by L. B. one of the participants to the Retreat)

The First International Creative Retreat for patients who have experienced cancer has taken place in Assisi, Italy, on September 4-9, 2001. This innovative intervention, sponsored by the International Society of Psycho-Oncology, was led by Paola Luzzatto, Ph.D. Asst Attending Art Therapist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, together with a small international team of experienced professionals. The philosophy behind the Retreat is that Creativity and Silence enhance each other, to facilitate inner development and healing from trauma. The team of six professionals (three from USA and three from Italy) worked very closely, in order to offer a safe and stimulating environment, where the participants could develop both their personal creativity and their capacity for positive inner silence. The day schedule combined and integrated art therapy workshops, creative writing and creativity workshops, the use of an art open studio, relaxation, movement and meditation practice. David Payne, Ph.D., Psychologist, trained in Mindfulness Meditation led the guided visualization and the meditation practice.

It was possible for the participants to meet individually with Dr Luzzatto or with Dr Payne, at some point during the retreat, to deal with personal issues. The retreat took place in a small convent which functions as a Guest House during the year, but was closed to the public during that week. The retreat was not connected to any particular religion and was deeply respectful of all cultural and spiritual traditions. Nineteen participants came from New York, California, Turkey, England, and Italy. It was run in two languages, English and Italian. A feedback sheet was given to the participants on the last day, to evaluate the program. The questions were focused on whether the participants were able to increase their feelings of well-being and to decrease/transform negative feelings. There was an overwhelming positive response to the retreat. The integration of the two approaches: Creative Self-Expression on one level, and Meditative Silence on another level, proved to be both challenging and enriching. The Second International Retreat has been organized in the Spring 2002, April 23-28, in the same locality. Seventeen patients have participated: from the United States, Italy and Portugal. We have kept the same approach and the same day schedule of silence, art therapy, creative writing and techniques of meditation. This time we have introduced the patients also to dance-movement therapy (15 minutes each morning and one workshop on the last day) and it was a great success. It seems this program fulfills a deep need in the oncology patient of re-establishing the contact with their source of internal strength, and we hope to make it an annual event. The Third Retreat has been planned for 10-15 June 2003, again in Assisi. The two languages will be English and Italian, but we have realized that the non-verbal communication has a great impact and allows an active participation to patients from any nationality. Please feel free to give this information to people who may benefit from this special space and time.

Paola Luzzatto, Ph.D., Assistant Attending Art Therapist, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Canter, 1242 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10021 e-mail: paoluz@concentric.net

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