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Arts in Healthcare: Creativity for the Health of It

The arts are good medicine for today's healthcare reform

lotusThe "arts in healthcare" is a wide-ranging international movement that covers the waterfront of possibilities for how the arts enhance lives and impact patient care, hospital environments, care for caregivers, and community-building within medical and other settings. Also known by some as "arts in medicine," the use of the arts in healthcare has been around for many decades with a recent surge in growth during the last ten years despite a bumpy economy and the rocky ride to healthcare reform. Over the last two decades, research on how the arts-- visual, music, movement, drama, literature, creative writing, and humor-- enhance health has increased exponentially [see previous post, Humor: The Human Gift for Coping and Survival]. Data point to a number of promising trends demonstrating that patients' participation in the arts reduce use of pain medication, increase compliance with treatments, and shorten the length of stay in hospitals, among other thought-provoking findings. The arts are also being used to create safer hospital environments, introduce nature into medical settings, and enhance aesthetics through hanging art on previously sterile wall space. And guess what? Patient/caregiver stress is measurably reduced, quality of care is increased, and costs of treatment go down.

In many medical schools, first year med students now routinely take short courses in arts and humanities and experience visual art, music-making, movement, or creative writing as therapies. Long time arts-medicine icon and advocate for the arts in healthcare, John Graham-Pole, MD, is one of many physicians who believe that both the arts and sciences working together make the world-and hospitals-a better place. Graham-Pole, a pediatrician, co-founded the Arts in Medicine Program at Shands Hospital where the creative arts, play, and humor have become as important as chemotherapy, surgery, and medications. While recently retired from Shands, he is still an example of how art and medicine complement each other to benefit patients; John is a poet and humorist who consistently uses a mixture of laughter and literature to facilitate patient wellness as part of his work.Jill Sonke Shands Hospital

In 1991, physicians like Graham-Pole, artists, arts therapists, hospital administrators, arts advocates, and like-minded individuals founded the Society for the Arts in Healthcare [SAH], an international organization of professionals and students dedicated to the advancement of how the arts improve people's lives and particularly patients challenged by medical illness. Later this month, SAH will welcome over 600 colleagues from around the world to its annual conference, "pARTners in HEALTH," in Minneapolis, MN, from April 28th to May 1st, 2010, to explore how the arts makes a difference in patient care, hospital environments, caring for caregivers [family, friends, and healthcare providers], and communities. I can tell you from experience that it is a dynamic gathering not only of artists, creative arts therapists, doctors, and healthcare professionals, but also curators, designers, administrators, spiritual leaders, educators, researchers, and policy makers. SAH also recently launched a journal, Arts & Health, to provide a scholarly, peer-reviewed forum for research, public policy, and professional practice. In future posts, I'll be summarizing some of the emerging trends in arts in healthcare research.

Like the expressive arts therapies, the arts in healthcare movement recognizes the arts, creativity, and imagination as agents of wellness and their consistent and central presence throughout history as healing practices. Hopefully, this century will recapture the importance of humanizing medicine through embracing the arts as part of patient care and improving the quality of hospital environments by incorporating music, dance, visual art, humor, and aesthetics into all healthcare services. This is the essence, as well as the heart and soul, of the arts in healthcare.

© 2010 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC

* After this brief "intermission," the next installment of the Ten Coolest Art Therapy Interventions is scheduled to return soon!

Please look for a "live" report from the SAH's Annual Conference on April 30th. And in case you cannot attend the SAH conference this year, here are a few of the keynote speakers and performers you'll miss:
• Rick Guidotti, a former fashion photographer and Director of Positive Exposure, a non-profit organization that challenges stigma associated with difference by pioneering a new vision of the beauty and richness of genetic diversity.
• David Feldshuh, MD, PhD, Physician, Professor and Artistic Director of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts at Cornell University; his writing includes three published and widely produced plays, including "Miss Evers' Boys."
• Rafael Campo, MD, D Litt, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard University Medical School, poet and essayist.
• Kairos Dance Theatre, founded in 1999 by Artistic Director Maria Genné, is an intergenerational dance company with performers ranging in age from four to ninety-nine years old.
• "Running on Empty" performed by Joanna Harmon and Maren Searle, is a play produced by Park Nicollet Melrose Institute, which follows young teens and their relationship with food as they try to balance the pressures of high school, sports, friends, and family.
• Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT) with Simone Perrin, Theater Artist, Accordionist, & Chanteuse, has engaged audiences throughout the US and abroad for 30 years and has been an innovative leader in the field of arts in healthcare since introducing their Caring for the Caregiver® program in 1992. Simone Perrin is a Minneapolis based theater artist, singer, and accordionist whose work with Kevin Kling, internationally recognized and locally adored playwright, storyteller and actor, has been a driving force in her recent creative endeavors.