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.





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!

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


Intro to Expressive Therapies

Photo: CC0, Khara Woods, 2016

The field of Expressive Therapy has recently become quite a phenomenon throughout the United States with the rise of health and wellness awareness. Although it is seen as a more alternative process, Expressive Therapy, also known as Arts Therapy, has roots that date back to the 1940’s. Before then, it was not defined as a practice, but art has been considered a medium for self-expression since cave drawings were discovered from 40,000 years ago in Cantabria, Spain. The practices tap into other fields, such as positive psychology, communication, self-awareness and most importantly self-confidence and creativity.

Nowadays, we are discovering new ways to use art in forms not limited to the classic pencil and paper. Expressive Therapy can be practiced through traditional art (painting, drawing, sculpting), dancing/singing and music, photography, journaling, and other activities. This blog will aim at helping readers to narrow the field to know what’s the best process to start with.

It should also be noted that Expressive Therapy is rooted in England, UK and has recently been brought over the ocean to the United States. We will learn more about this historical process and specifically, how it has spread throughout Boston.

Expressive Therapy can be more affordable and accessible than traditional psychiatric therapy. Activities can be conducted privately or in groups and even self-taught at home, which gives the option to make it more comfortable and financially acceptable. This will be explained in more details such as why more patients, even patients with serious medical conditions, are moving towards these alternative therapies. Additionally we will touch upon art therapy as a movement and how this field is seen as a creative approach to psychiatric care and health in general.