September 20, 2022 | By Bani Malhotra, MA, ATR-BC

Working with a burn patient in India.

Medical art therapy is a rapidly growing subspecialty of art therapy. Art therapists all over the world work in different medical settings, providing a range of services to children and adults in hospitals, outpatient clinics, palliative care settings, or community programs. For me, a fortuitous opportunity to intern at the burn care center as a graduate student of psychology in India, first led me to first experience the interdisciplinary aspects of burn care which I am now exploring in a systematic way through my doctoral art therapy studies at Drexel University.

Burns can cause devastating injuries and affect an individual’s and their family’s overall psychosocial adjustment following a burn trauma. Through my preliminary research, I have found that despite the emerging interest in the trauma of a burn injury, the insight into psychosocial care intervention for personal, social, and cultural impact of burns is scarce. Furthermore, art therapy work with burn patients is dated two decades ago and is limited to examples of case descriptions, and clinical observations (Malhotra, Anand, & Kaimal, 2022).

Working with a burn patient in India.

My clinical work motivated me to research ways of applying scientific rigor to the understanding and practice of art therapy in burn care. In 2021, I set out to do my doctoral practicum training at a burn center in northeast United States, wherein I worked within a multidisciplinary burn care team with hospitalized adult burn patients, considered to be in the acute care phase of treatment (Wiechman & Patternson, 2004). This practicum training, supported by AATA’s Irene Rosner David Scholarship Award provided me with the much-needed opportunity to develop and implement preliminary feasibility research as a clinician-researcher in a setting where art therapy programming was not familiar.

Researching the Effects of Art Therapy with Burn Patients

In my scrubs working at a burn center in the US

The art therapy study was conceptualized in collaboration with burn professionals to provide individualized psychosocial interventions for burn patients at the bedside, while deepening understanding of art therapy experience through feedback from patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. Ethics approval was obtained for the study, and we used mixed methods research design with five patients. The aim during this practicum placement was to determine whether art therapy research was feasible with burn patients in an acute care setting and to explore the preliminary treatment effect of art therapy sessions on patients’ self-reported mood and anxiety before and after four sessions of art therapy. The infographic below represents a graphic summary of this study and also includes an interactive graph for quantitative data as well as the published manuscript with main findings (Malhotra, Haith et al., 2022).

This study is currently being expanded to explore its role not only across sessions but between sessions as well with more burn patients. Art therapy has positive implications for addressing specific psychosocial needs which can be examined further considering interdisciplinary collaborations.


Image of my process art of working with my non-dominant hand

Malhotra, B., Anand, S. A., & Kaimal, G. (2022). Art Therapy in Burn Cases: A Review and Case Examples. Annals of Plastic Surgery, 88(2), S120-S127.

Malhotra, B., Haith, L. R., Stair-Buchmann, M., & Kaimal, G. (2022). “Through the fire and flames, we carry on:” Art Therapy Small N Feasibility Study With Adult Burn Patients in an Acute Care Setting. Journal of Burn Care & Research.

Wiechman, S. A., & Patterson, D. R. (2004). Psychosocial aspects of burn injuries. BMJ, 329(7462), 391-393.

Bani Malhotra, MA, ATR-BC

Bani is a Board Certified Art Therapist and a doctoral candidate at Drexel University’s Creative Arts Therapies department. She is a research fellow in Dr. Girija Kaimal’s Health, Arts, Learning and Evaluation (HALE) Lab working on art therapy projects related to hematology/oncology, veterans with Gulf War Illness, and the use of traditional artforms in art therapy. Bani is currently working towards her dissertation on art therapy with individuals who have burn injuries. Connect with her on Twitter at BaniMalhotra_ and on Instagram