Boston Hospitals’ Creative Approach to Healing

Art as a form of healing has been a formal practice at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and Boston Children’s Hospital since the late 1990’s but it seems that, until recently, the care hasn’t been a well-known supplement to treatment. It may be due to current ongoing research of the benefits of art, increased funding for program development, or simply that people are looking for alternative and additional methods to cope and heal.

“The clinical team is coming around to it more and more because there is more evidence. Patients and families are becoming better consumers and they want the whole package…they want to feel better physically and see their course of treatment. They need another way to cope, and sometimes you just need something for your soul, heart, and mind. Art and music do just that.” -Miranda Day, Creative Arts Program Administration Manager at Boston Children’s Hospital

The Integrative Therapies program at MGH and Boston Children’s Creative Arts program have expanded to include different areas of alternative therapeutic treatment, including art therapy in both. Sticking to the base of expressive therapies, neither program requires previous knowledge or practice of art, music, etc. They have been designed to serve their patients either bedside or in small groups when appropriate, and welcome sessions with family members and close friends.

Holly Chartrand, the Patient Coordinator of the Integrative Therapies program and a Clinical Musical Therapist at MGH, has seen the program grow over the years. With the perspective of a coordinator and therapist she understands the program’s work from both sides. She said MGH began its program with massage therapy and has grown to include music therapy, acupuncture, art therapy, tai chi and qigong. Chartrand is part of the 17-person integrative therapies team that works not only with patients going through oncology care, but psychiatric as well.

“It’s been very popular and we often have a waitlist,” she said, “Our patients are seen over time…rarely do we see a patient just once.” Patients are given a treatment plan that incorporates the integrative therapies. The team works with clinicians to diagnose and determine “continuity with care if it’s clinically indicated to be seen over time.” For example, “an acupuncturist with a patient has a treatment plan based on their needs and diagnosis,” she said, “then, they will make a clinical judgement and the patient will be seen for successions.”

Integrative therapies at MGH are provided by trained professionals and are not only available as individual sessions, but as workshops and support groups as well. A monthly calendar is released with a wide range of supportive care services. “It’s a great program that’s well-accessed by patients,” said Chartrand,”[the programs] can make a positive impact on their experience and it’s really great that we have it to offer to patients while they’re ill and being treated.

The Creative Arts program is philanthropically funded and rely on donations. “The services are complimentary and unfortunately never guaranteed due to limited resources,” said Chartrand. However, patients still take full advantage of the program’s drop-in classes and on-call therapies.  Chartrand expressed her interest in the program expanding to other departments of the hospital and eventually to other Boston-area hospitals. “We’re ready to grow to other areas, but it really comes down to funding,” said Chartrand.

Miranda Day, the Creative Arts Program Administration Manager at Boston Children’s, has been with the hospital for over ten years and has also seen the it become “a more cohesive program.” At Boston Children’s, the Creative Arts team works to develop “engaging, innovative, and uplifting experiences” for children and their families going through care. The Creative Arts Program has many different experiences to choose from including: artists-in-residence, music therapy, art cart, and Seacrest studios. Although a little difficult to determine, Day believes that music therapy has been the most popular as it transcends age and ability, making it more relatable to families and kids. The hospital has also partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp; each providing a variety of healing community/individual activities and art education for the patients. “There is a beauty in having variety because people are varied and unique gives them the opportunity to be unique and do what they love well rounded program,” said Day.

Robin DeSantis, the Artful Healing Program Coordinator at the Museum of Fine Arts who has also worked as an art educator with patients, believes that the partnerships between hospitals provide great programs. “We recognize that art and art making can be healing ad that the process of making art helps alleviate anxiety,” she said, “learning about different works of art in different parts of the world can help a child’s development in various ways. . .it serves as a sort of respite from whatever treatment they may be going through in a hospital setting.”

The programs at Boston Children’s have been quite popular, with 33,000 patients and families participating just last year. Day said that according to a quality improvement study done two years ago, the results have been “extremely positive.” “Both patients and parents reported that their pain level went down,” she said. Anxiety levels were reported to have decreased substantially as well from care.

“Music therapy, like psychology or social work, can be part of their health care,” said Day. “They get referrals from the medical team, or are self-referred, so it is more of a clinical approach.” When they are self-reffered it is mostly based on “knowing what the kids are interested in. . .sometimes the families are good advocates for themselves.” Like MGH, Boston Children’s is not limited to one area of patient care. The Creative Arts program goes through inpatient care, including the intensive care unit.

Day said that she would love the program to expand to other areas of the hospital and Boston Children’s (Longwood) has already implemented creative arts into their satellite locations in Jamaica Plain, Waltham, Peabody, Norwood, Lexington as they’re growing in staff and abilities. “I see this being more of a traditional part of care instead of an extra in healthcare as the years go by,” she said. “People are always seeking a way to cope, whether it’s through reading, exercise, or art,” said Day, “Especially when you lose abilities, art is a great way to release stress to think about what youre going through in a different way.” She believes that art has such a healing element that it only makes sense to be part of healthcare.

Art as a form of healing is not unique to Boston and is constantly expanding to other areas of the United States. The American Art Therapy Association has detailed information regarding implementation, outcomes, and applications of art therapy in clinical settings, including successful program listings from hospitals all over the country.





American Psychological Association (APA) as a Resource

The American Psychological Association is a very useful source for keeping up on current research and news in the world of psychology. Although it is the American association, much of the news is international. I especially like the organization’s mission of expanding knowledge psychology and engaging students and professors, by creating content that is clear and understandable. They also provide a Publications and Databases section with detailed suggested materials to find further resources.

In terms of how engaging this source is with its readers, I haven’t seen much in the way of comments on the site’s articles. However, on Facebook and Twitter it is very active with a lot of curated materials.

As a student interested in psychology and still close to the beginning of learning more about the field, I have found it very helpful so far. The research available through PsychINFO for public access is a great resource to double check facts I may have found on other sources or to further back up something that I read. The page Science of Psychology has also been a great resource as it divides the information into the different field of psychology such as brain science and cognitive psychology.

One thing I would say that the site could improve on is perhaps being a little less overwhelming. I know this might be hard because there is so much information for this organization to include on its site as psychology is such as massive field of science. At times I felt like I had to do some digging before I found anything that could be of use, mostly because it has a lot of things that are for sale available, which essentially is my issue. The Psychology Topics page is the best example of how the site solves this issue well through organization that makes sense to people who don’t know everything about the field. This is where I usually go when I’m specifically interested in a topic and want to learn more.

Other sources to check out that are similar and also informative are The American Art Therapy Association and the International Art Therapy Association, as these are more narrow in subject matter.

Virtual Reality and Psychotherapy

CC0, Sebastian Voortman, 2016

As virtual reality has been an ongoing topic in our class, I wanted to see if there were any projects using the technology in the field of psychology. Turns out there is something called virtual reality exposure therapy, where the user (client) is guided by a therapist to conquer fears such as acrophobia (the fear of heights.) These experiences help the user to go through events related to their phobia or disorder, such as walking on a high bridge. The therapist measures the user’s physiological responses as well as monitors their self-reported anxiety levels.

Each stage can be repeated until the user feels comfortable with that stage and satisfied with the results. Virtual reality exposure therapy has proven to be so effective that it is now one of the primary treatments for PTSD and addiction rehabilitation. -Carbon Culture Review

The Virtual Reality Medical Center in California helps clients through various anxiety disorders and phobias such as claustrophobia, fear of public speaking, flying, driving, etc. According to their site,”The client wears a head-mounted display with small TV monitors and stereo earphones to receive both visual and auditory cues.” The client and therapist work together to create a hierarchy of anxiety-inducing events where they are careful and control the stages.

Virtual reality has also been spreading to the world Art Therapy as a form of digital expressive therapy. Books have been written on the integration of technology and art expression/healing, and an app has been released called ArtBoard CardBoard that enables users with  quadriplegic paralysis, neurodegenerative diseases, and amputations “to create art with the motion of their heads.”


Monday Morning at South End Buttery


Most famous for its brunch, the South End Buttery is a bakery, market, restaurant and bar located in, you guessed it, the South End. There are two locations in the area, one on Shawmut Ave and the other on Clarendon Street (I visited the Shawmut Ave location.) The cozy atmosphere and contemporary menu have helped The Buttery win many dining awards in Boston and keep their customers coming back for more.

I visited The Buttery on a rainy Monday morning for a cup of coffee ($2.50 for a 16oz medium) but I was in the mood for something fancy, so I tried an espresso latte. They brew Equator Coffee and Tea which is ethically sourced and from San Rafael, California. The Buttery is currently renovating their main cafe, so I went over to their market area which didn’t have any tables and was more of a ‘to-go’ environment. Despite the renovations, I still had a nice experience, the employees were friendly and I didn’t have to wait long. There is a ‘cafe renovation menu’ for the time being (expected another few weeks.)I did see a few people sitting at The Buttery’s bar around the corner to enjoy the morning paper and a coffee, so the renovation doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on regular customers.

I found that it was a pretty local place, tucked in the heart of the South End. Kit Norton, a South End resident, said he usually goes there on Sunday mornings to get a cappuccino. “It’s a nice place,” he said, “it’s a pleasant stroll through the neighborhood.”

It would be nice to visit again once the renovations are all done and have the full brunch experience I’ve heard so much about!


37 Clarendon St., Boston, MA 02116

Closest MBTA Stop: Back Bay Orange Line/Commuter Rail

Accessibility: handicapped-accessible

Contact: (617) 482-1015 (Shawmut)

(617) 482-1015 (Clarendon)

Cafe Hours: 6am-6pm Daily (Shawmut)

6:30am-8pm (Clarendon)

Getting in Touch with Art and Ourselves

Photo: CC0, Unsplash, 2016

A very interesting and informative article written in the Daily Californian, a student-run newspaper out of University of Berkeley, about art therapy explaining what this form of therapy looks like in a professional setting. To anyone looking for an answer as to how art therapy is different from other forms, this is a great read!

The article includes interviews American Art Therapy Association board member Paige Asawa and Art Therapy Clinic Director, Helen B. Landgarten. The two discuss how any sort of art, even doodling or scribbling helps us to get in touch with ourselves.”Art, then, is an act of self-exploration and discovery in a manner which is natural and comfortable for the individual.” Many of us are out of touch with our emotions and feelings and art is a pathway to rekindle that connection and go deeper.

“(Art therapy) reaches those nonverbal places where trauma is stored in the psyche and in the body. (It) can really release those traumatic events so that they are not detrimental to the person’s development and growth, and I think that that’s specifically one of many areas in which art therapy far surpasses other types of therapy”

-Paige Asawa, American Art Therapy Association

Check out the article here!

Spreading Art Therapy

Sticking to my beat, I will be examining art and therapy a bit further for my final project by asking the question how are people spreading the word of art therapy? As I’ve mentioned in other posts, although gradually gaining attention, Art Therapy isn’t that well known as a field or practice. I would like to contact organizations and associations such as: American Art Therapy Association (contacts), MGH Art Therapy program’s certified art therapists, and admissions at Lesley University for their MA in Expressive Therapy program. These would be my core expert interviews, along with interviews from, perhaps, someone in private practice, a Boston public arts community center, a popular blogger, a student who is very involved in art.

My video will focus on people who art practicing this sort of art, or just art in general for themselves . This will probably have to be a student or someone in a public center to be allowed to record in the space. I will ask them what art is to them, if they know about art therapy and how did they get involved in it if so.

The photo story will include the actual places where people can practice art therapy to show what these locations look like and how they operate. These probably won’t be able to include people in practice in places like hospitals or private practice, so they will be focused on the projects that have been done, what the space looks like, etc.




Therapeutic Photography: What is it?

Photo: CC0, Kaique Rocha, 2016

Art therapy is something that many people turn themselves away from simply because they believe they’re not good at art or they don’t see themselves as artists. This misconception often arises because people don’t feel comfortable with what they immediately think of as art supplies: paint, charcoal, ink…

Today almost everyone has a smart phone, which we use to take pictures every day. Most people wouldn’t think photography, especially photography on a phone could be considered art, but the technology on these small devices is becoming so advanced professional artists are using them too! Some would argue that these devices are killing the field of photography, but as always in art therapy, the objective is the process not the final outcome. With this in mind, I would like to introduce you to Therapeutic Photography.

Therapeutic Photography is the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organized group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place and no therapist or counsellor needs to be involved.”

To begin, become comfortable with your camera of choice, whether that be a smartphone or a professional camera (digital or film). Find a place where you would like to record the moment or a feeling through picture taking and begin to capture images. Without worrying about what they look like, how you’ll edit them later or which ones you’ll include in social media (if any at all) try to maintain your focus on the action of picture taking. Enjoy your subject matter and think about why you’re choosing it. A great time to practice this can be while you’re waiting for the train to arrive or if you’re out taking a walk with your dog. Basically any time that you might be distracting yourself with your phone, use it therapeutically!

Photo Therapy is being practiced all over the world by professional and amateur artists, psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers and many other professions. You can either try it out on your own, in a group, through a course or with a professional. Therapeutic photography can also be practiced without a camera! Photo therapy includes picture taking, viewing, planning, discussing and even visualizing/remembering imagery. The techniques have been proven to increase self-knowledge, awareness and well-being, as well as aiding in improving relationships with family and others. (See all benefits are listed here.)

Interested in starting with your smartphone? Check out this article with tips on smartphone photography!

Looking into the Correlation Between Weather and Sales at Boston Public Market

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 6.07.32 PM.pngLately there has been some unusual weather in Boston, setting records for high temperatures in winter months. There have been more people out and about, however, markets and restaurants have not yet opened their outside venues or patios. Curious about how markets deal with the constant (and inconsistent) weather changes of New England, I visited Boston Public Market to ask some of the vendors about their sales and if there was any relation.

Check out the video of my coverage here.


Studies of Happiness & Pets

Photo: CC0, Krista Mangulsone, 2015

Recently I’ve become a pet owner, which has gotten me thinking about an article I read last year on the correlation between owning a pet and overall well-being and happiness. Although pet ownership may not seem like a form of therapy, studies have proven otherwise (given the right situation and owner.)

The article is titled “Get a pet and get happy” from Psychologies UK. Health Blogger and Writer for MentalHealthWise, Martha Roberts explains how our happiness and overall wellbeing can be boosted by having a pet in our life.

Many would agree that having a pet makes us happier but this article aimed at addressing the point that pets actually can make us healthier. Research has shown that blood pressure can be reduced, as well as high cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Empathy is also increased, which is especially great for children to learn at a young age.

 It also reduces stress and makes people feel less lonely. The strong attachment a person forms to a pet is associated with lower levels of depression and greater self-esteem.

In a series of related studies published by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that pet owners had higher levels of wellbeing (i.e. self-esteem and exercise regimens) and individual difference (i.e. conscientiousness and attachment methods.) It was also found that pets provide social support, which promotes many positive physical and psychological benefits to their owners.

Pet ownership can also increase creativity though the actions of daily play. In an article from PsychCentral, play is emphasized as a vital element in our lives, even as we grow from children to adults. Stuart Brown, MD, author, psychiatrist and the founder of The National Institute for Play, wrote that play is like oxygen, it is something that we don’t realize is there until it goes missing.

Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.

From my own experience, I’ve found that owning a pet has definitely increased my happiness. Although rubbing her belly at seven in the morning and cleaning her litter box isn’t the most calming part of pet ownership, the positives have outweighed the negatives.