Journal of Child and Family Studies (2020) 29:2218–2233
Supporting Children Living with Chronic Medical Conditions
Through Empathetic Art
Judy Rollins 1●Christine Rollins2●Lori Anne Boocks3●Terry Sitz4
Published online: 28 June 2020
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020
Empathy has been shown to reduce stress for children coping with healthcare experiences. This descriptive study explored
the ability of professional artists to express empathy through paintings created for children with chronic medical conditions.
Aims included (1) to artistically describe children with serious chronic medical conditions; (2) to capture the children’s
responses to a personal empathetic art piece; (3) to explore the ability of an intervention using the artwork to reduce heart
rate and improve children’s present functioning quality of life (QOL); and (4) to determine the meaning of the experience for
the artists. This grounded theory study used a mixed methods design that included interview, observation, art making, heart
rate, and PedsQL™Present Functioning VAS. Two artists created paintings for eight children (ages 10–19 years) following
a one-time interview. Quantitative measures were taken pre- and post-debrieﬁng/art therapy intervention. Artistic
descriptions reﬂected the children as being more than their chronic medical conditions. Children acknowledged feeling that
they had been heard. Reduction in heart rate was statistically signiﬁcant (p=0.025, at p< 0.05). PedsQL™VAS scores
indicated a trend toward improved present functioning QOL (p=0.0667). Study participation was both meaningful and
stressful for the artists. Findings support the emergent theory that professional artists who can listen with an empathetic ear
and then express empathy through their art can help humanize pediatric healthcare and increase ﬂourishing for children with
chronic medical conditions.
Keywords Children with chronic conditions ●Empathy ●Art therapy ●Arts in health ●Well-being
●Empathetic art helped children feel seen, heard, and acknowledged as being more than their chronic medical conditions.
●Children showed a trend toward improved present functioning quality of life from the experience of being empathized
with through paintings created for them.
●For artists, study participation was both meaningful and stressful.
●Artists can make signiﬁcant contributions to psychosocial support for children with chronic medical conditions.
Today, children are surviving diseases and conditions that
were once fatal. According to the most recent national
survey, 19.4% of children in the United States have a
chronic medical condition (Child and Adolescent Health
Measurement Initiative 2016). A chronic medical condition
is a health problem that lasts three months or more, affects a
child’s normal activities, and requires frequent hospitaliza-
tions, home health care, and/or extensive medical care
(Mokkink et al. 2008). Beyond the physical factors such as
pain, fatigue, or lack of mobility that their conditions pre-
sent, children might experience internal (e.g., emotional and
behavioral) and external (e.g., interpersonal, ﬁnancial,
housing, educational) psychosocial factors that can affect
1Georgetown University School of Medicine, 1406 28th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20007, USA
2Fairfax County Public Schools, Falls Church, VA, USA
3Lori Anne Boocks Artist, Germantown, MD, USA
4Terry Sitz Artist, LLC, Silver Spring, MD, USA
Supplementary Information The online version of this article
supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.