*Benefit of Arts in Healthcare

The Benefits of Integrating Creativity in Healthcare

I have been studying and researching the effects of creativity and the arts in healthcare for years. The information presented below is culled from evidence-based research and articles on the benefits of integrating the arts in healthcare. ~Marti Hand

A. Evidence-based research

A growing body of research demonstrates that creativity and spirituality can heal by changing a person’s physiology, attitudes, emotional states, and perceptions of pain. Engaging in creative work has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Creative acitivities rouse the hypothalamus to activate the autonomic nervous system, which balances vital signs and hormone level. Engaging in the creative process stimulates the amygdala in the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters, thereby, reducing pain and triggering the immune system to function more efficiently.(1-5) Creative interventions shorten hospital stays and decrease the use of pain medication.(6) In addition, by engaging in creative work, patients and family caregivers experience reduced stress and anxiety levels, and a heightened sense of well-being.(7)

Scientists are taking a closer look at the effects writing, painting and listening to music have on the body. A neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Institute for Music and Brain Science in Boston believes”music can cause neurochemical changes in specific parts of the brain.”(8)

That  particular area is the amygdala where endogenous opioid and other “feel good” neurotransmitters are released.(9) Engaging in creative work lowers cortisol levels, a stress hormone that may affect immune levels. In a 2004 study of AIDS patients and the effects of writiing exercises, the patients had higher T-cell levels which has a significant salutary role in cellular immunity. In a visual arts class at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine (Philadelphia), participants with different types of cancer experienced significant drops in their stress levels, decreased pain, improved sleep patterns, and fewer general complaints. Research shows the psychological, neural, endocrine and immune systems function as an integrated whole mechanism rather than separately as previously theorized.

Psychoneuroimmunology is a branch of science that studies the interactions among behavior, neural, endocrine functions and the immune system. Once thought to function autonomously, research shows the immune system, with the endocrine and neural systems are components of a single, integrated defense mechanism, and may provide the means “by which psychosocial factors and emotional states influences development and progression of infectious autoimmune and neoplastic diseases.(9-10) In essence, the interactions between behavior (psychosocial and emotional states) and immune function are bi-directional, just as endocrine and neural functions are bidirectional with the immune system. What this means is that healing (and disease) occurs simultaneously on four levels: mind-body-spirit-emotions.

Health professionals are also focusing on the benefits of utilizing the arts and humanities for not only cancer and chronic disease management, but also disease prevention – art, dance and musical interventions can be helpful when treating brain injury, dementia, cardiovascular accidents, depression, beareavement, pain management, peds, sexual abuse, and AIDS.(10)

B. Patient Satisfaction Results on The Creative Process in Healthcare

Qualitative studies have shown the diagnosis of cancer assaults personal and social identity as well as the physical body. (1-3) Some people regard their cancer as taking “center state” and express concern over it. Creating art was found to strengthen personal and social identity by helping people resist being dominated by the cancer label, and promote relationships based on mutual interests rather than illness. Creative interventions have also been shown to foster group support and mutual understanding among patients with cancer. (1)

Seventy-five percent of families in the United States have one or more family member diagnosed with cancer. Family caregivers usually assume the major responsibilities for taking care of their loved one due to medical and technologic advances, and the shift of medical treatment to oupatient settings.(4)

Researchers suggest psychological symptoms (stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, fatigue, anger, energy, confustion, spiritual distress) rather than physical symptoms are the most overwhelming to most caregivers. (6) Creative interventions were offered to study participants, and pre and post evaluations conducted per research protocol.

Patients and family caregivers had a noticeable change in demeanor and attitudes once they engaged in creative interventions, i.e., family caregivers expereinced lower stress reduced anxiety, and increased positive emotions. (5) Also, creative work served as a valuable tool for bonding and communication, creating a sense of well-being between caregiver and patient. Another study of terminally ill patients with cancer and their partners show that well-being of both patients and partners are interrelated. The study also implied any unrelieved psychological symptoms of the patient increased the risk of long-term psychological morbidity of ther surviving partners. (6)


Below are examples of self-portraits by two Creativity Workshop graduates. They stated they had no artistic talents – the self-portraits were their first attempt at painting. Pretty awesome for first-time ‘artists’!

The Creative Center in New York City is well-known throughout the United States for it’s hospital Artist-In-Residence (AIR) Program. Their mission is to “bring art making experiences to the patients’ bedside” in New York City hospitals. The program was founded on the belief that “Medicine may cure the body; art heals the spirit.” A study was conducted in 2002 measuring consumer/patient and satisfaction of the AIR program before and after creative interventions.

As seen in the table below, feelings of boredom, sadness, loneliness and anxiety dramatically deceased after engaging in creative work with the artist.

*Numbers add up to more than 100% because more than one response was permitted.Total n=52.  Source: Final Report: Satisfaction and Outcomes Assessment Hospital Artist-In-Residence Program of the Creative Center, 2002

Patients were asked to explain their opinions of the Creative Center’s Artist-In-Residence (AIR) program. Here are a few comments shared by patients participating in creative interventions:

  • It can be very inspirational; to get my mind off my pain is a very good thing.
  • A lot of people feel like me, and it can make me feel better.
  • It is so uplifting to feel that one can still make beautiful things in spite of a terminal illness.
  • It kept my mind off being sick.

Not only did the patients gain from working with the AIR artists, but 42.3% of the nursing staff believed the arts program affected their capacity to provide patient care. As you can see in the table below, the nursing staff felt the AIR enhanced their abilities to provide patient care.

How Program Affected Ability to Provide Patient Care



% of those responding “Yes”

Happy to see patients’ enjoyment



Enhanced my ability to do my job



More optimistic about my job



Facilitated patient interaction



Increased job satisfaction



*Numbers add up to more than 100% because more than one response was permitted. Total number responding was 52.  Source:Final Report:Satisfaction and Outcomes Assessment. Hospital Artist-In-Residence Program of the Creative Center.

A few comments by the nursing staff further illustrate their observations on the benefits of patients engaging in creative interventions:

·     [The artist] provides an excellent service to my patients, making their time here less stressful.

·     It helps them let go of their fears and tensions.

·     Through the arts, patients are able to communicate the emotions, concerns and anxiety that accompany many difficult treatments

·     They express such pride and satisfaction in their work.

·     It relieves boredom and boosts the spirit and morale of the patients.    

Another interesting finding is the increase in nurses’ job optimism and job satifaction with the implementation of the AIR program. This information is important for nursing recruitment and retention efforts, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer & Family Caregivers

A two day pilot study Creativity Workshop was conducted in a metro Atlanta cancer center in 2007 by me.  The purpose of the study was to introduce cancer survivors and family caregivers to the concept of an arts program for adults. Post evaluations were obtained from five of the eight participants with very favorable responses – see table below. According to the results, mood, level of anxiety, pain and discomfort improved during and after the arts workshop.


Less than


As expected

Better than expected

1. With regard to fun, the workshop was




2. I felt inspired




3. The workshop was interesting




4. Promoted my creativity




5. After the workshop, I felt more cheerful




6. My mood was improved by the workshop




7. My satisfaction with Creativity Workshop




8. My discomfort, pain or anxiety was diminished during/after the workshop




N=5;*1 participant (out of 5) repsonded with 5++ to the questions indicating engagement in creative interventions dramatically exceeded expectations.

The Creativity Workshop participants also added comments regarding the arts intervention:
  • Fun! Freedom to paint the way I like!
  • More, more, more!
  • It was wonderful.  The preparation was excellent and music very inspiring. Conversation was meaningful.  Have more of them!
  • Longer! More!
  • The artist is accepting, encouraging, helpful-but leaves us to our whims

Below is an example of painting by a participant in a 2007 Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer & Family Caregivers. This was the participant’s first time painting!

The arts serve patients and caregivers (family and healthcare professionals) as powerful tools in times of emotional and physical vulnerability, and brings beauty into the stress-filled healthcare world. The arts touch spirits that seek solace, encouragement, comfort, peace and hope. The arts help to celebrate and build a sense of community among patients, families, healthcare professionals, and the larger community. The message for healthcare professionals is plain and simple: Art is a simple, cost-effective intervention that mobilizes self-care and responsibility. It facilitates the experience of healing energy. It heals in the physiological, cognitive, spiritual and emotional dimensions – simultaneously!

To re-emphasize, creative interventions are not only effective in cancer and chronic disease management, but also disease prevention – art, dance and musical interventions can be helpful when treating brain injury, dementia, cardiovascular accidents, depression, beareavement, pain management, peds, sexual abuse, and AIDS.

                                      (crystallized testosterone & estrogen by Marti Hand)


2 responses to “*Benefit of Arts in Healthcare

  1. Pingback: Family Art Projects: Strengthening Bonds By Creating Together - Eat Well Love Long

  2. Pingback: Lilly Oncology On Canvas « CREATIVITY IN HEALTHCARE

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