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.

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Virtual Reality and Psychotherapy

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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.”

 

Getting in Touch with Art and Ourselves

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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!

Therapeutic Photography: What is it?

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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!

Studies of Happiness & Pets

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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.

 

 

 

Coverage of Possible Cuts to Arts Programs

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Photo:  CC0, Lum3n.com Snufkin, 2017

In fairly recent news, President Trump has stated that he wants to cut federally funded arts and humanities programs. These programs would include: The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which have long been in the cross hairs of conservative critics. If Trump follows through, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would become private and the other national organizations would disappear entirely.

Publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post have found creative ways to display how much money these organizations really are receiving a year. They demonstrate a point about how cuts would really not make much of a difference to the national budget, but it would make a difference to those involved in the arts.

“We can look at that visually, using a pie chart. The programs above are represented with blue slices. Well, sort of a pie chart. If you were at Thanksgiving and demanded a slice of pecan pie proportionate to 2016 NEA spending relative to the federal budget, you’d end up with a piece of pie that would need to be sliced off with a finely-tuned laser.” Washington Post

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Also represented in the New York Times article:

“Would cuts save much money? If these dots represent federal spending, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . then the combined budgets of the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be the size of the period in this sentence.”

At this point, why not make statements this dramatic to draw attention to something this important? Other publications have been jumping on the bandwagon as well, making statements about how much of an impact these cuts would have and how the arts are often disregarded as important. Here’s a breakdown of the programs’ costs and what they do.

Although there have been arguments made that these programs are elitist and leftist, however, regardless of where they stand politically, we all need art in our lives!

Drawing Together: Creative Expression for America

Last week I attended an event hosted by Mass Art called “Drawing Together: Creative Expression for America. This group drawing and art therapy event is part of a series called DRAW/BOSTON that is open to the public every Wednesday night from 6-8:00pm in the Bakalar & Paine Galleries at Mass Art. The event is free, facilitated by professionals, and the best part is you don’t need to have any drawing experience! 

“I wanted to use my creativity to imagine something hopeful and creative.” Trina Jackson, Participant

 

My Experiment with Live Tweeting

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As I wrote in my last post, Twitter has never been a social media go-to for me, so this experiment with live Tweeting was definitely a challenge. This weekend, I attended “Sensory Carnival Saturdays” hosted at the artlery160 gallery on Federal Street in Boston. Artist Sloat Shaw designed the gallery in a way that not only exhibited her paintings, but allowed the viewers to experience them in a whole new way. Stations were set up for participants to test out with items such as aromatherapy oils and massage balls to stimulate their senses. Before and after the experiment, visitors could take a sensory baseline test to discover how their brain was reacting to the stimuli. This event was so interesting and engaging, with a great message about connecting to our inner artist. I’ll also be attending the Pop Up Talk on creativity and the brain later on this week.

Going to this event, I basically wanted to accomplish my goal of understanding Twitter. I also wanted to see if it were possible to participate in an event of this nature while covering it. While I was there I found that it was quite difficult to be fully present, especially because this event required concentration to participate. I felt distracted and that I was being rude while on my phone, so I explained to the artist what I was doing.

Although it was difficult, I do see the positives in Tweeting live.I think that covering an event as it happens can be more interesting and perhaps more accurate. It’s not necessary to write in full detail, and pictures/videos definitely help to explain a situation more than the 140 character limit. Overall, I don’t think I would try live Tweeting again, perhaps in a different kind of event that’s less intimate.

A Deeper Look into Art Therapy

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Photo: CC0, Pixabay User SailDancer, 2011

What is Art Therapy and Who is it for?

A common myth is that Art Therapy is set aside for kids or artists. Although these certainly are two categories of clients, it is open to everyone! Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy, which means it’s part of a larger field of creative and alternative therapies. In these sorts of therapies, the  creative process is utilized to help clients connect with themselves in order to solve issues they may be having such as high stress or low self-esteem. Art therapy can serve people in different ways and for various reasons, but most commonly to improve mental, emotional, and even physical well-being.

Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. American Art Therapy Association

What does an art therapy session look like? 

Due to our tendency to want everything we make or do to be perfect, we often dismiss our talents and write ourselves off as not being creative. However, in art therapy, the creative process and inner experience is more important than the final result, making it a welcoming practice to everyone. In a session, a client will spend more time on how he or she feels during the process of lets say painting something, rather than critiquing the final product.

Therapy sessions can be private or in groups, usually with one therapist leading the activities. By using art as a medium, it may be easier for clients to express themselves rather than  privately talking one-on-one with a therapist. There are many techniques and variations on how a session is conducted, such as active imagination by Carl Jung, gestalt methods and the “third-hand approach.” There isn’t one way to conduct art therapy as it is adaptable to clients needs and what the therapist sees as a best fit.