Tag Archives: Candace Pert

Candace Pert, Explorer of the Brain

Candace Pert, my favorite scientist, died recently from a heart attack…read the New York Times article.

Candace Pert, PhD.

Her book, Molecules of Emotion, had such an impact on me in terms of my work as a painter, and understanding the scientific basis of emotions on health and well-being. In fact, this blog, Creativity in Healthcare, was created based on the interconnectedness  of emotions on health and disease states. You may be interested in seeing a few paintings titled Molecules of Emotion“,  which focuses on the scientific work of Candace Pert.  This series remains a work in perpetual progress.

A bit of background on Candace Pert, PhD: 

As a  graduate student at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Candace discovered the receptor for opiates like endorphins (natural opiate), morphine, opium, codeine and other pharmaceutical narcotics.  Her discovery  eventually won the coveted Lasker Award, a precursor to the Nobel Price, but was awarded to the chief laboratory scientist, i.e., her boss. Who knows what the real reasons were for Dr. Pert not being awarded the Lasker Award, but she certainly didn’t get the recognition she so deserved!

Recommended Reading and Listening by Candace Pert, PhD.

I strongly recommend Dr. Pert’s book and audio lecture for those interested in learning more about the biochemistry of how emotions affect states of health.

  • Molecules of Emotion:The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine
  • Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind (audio lecture)

Both are available through candacepert.com and many online book stores.


Creative Interventions in Spiritual Care

An article in USA Today (March 18, 2009) references a study in the March 17, 2009 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) on the choices terminally ill patients make during their last few weeks of life.  The study showed patients who rely heavily on their religious faith were 3 times more likely to want intensive, invasive medical procedures like cpr when their hearts stop or being connected to a ventilator (breathing machine).  They also made fewer preparations for death, such as living wills, giving someone power of attorney, or filling out a “do not resuscitate” forms.

The lead author, Dr. Holly Prigerson of Harvard Medical School, theorizes that patients with strong religious faith may be “waiting for a miracle…” and are “more likely to think that life is sacred and that their job is to prove their faith to God by staying alive as long as possible, so miracles can be performed.” 

However, aggressive medical procedures may heighten physical pain and suffering in patients who are terminally ill.  Patients connected to a griefventilator are unable to verbally communicate and have meaningful conversations with their family and friends, which may cause more grief for family caregivers.  What this essentially translates to is invasive medical procedures in terminally ill patients may be associated with poor quality of death for the patient, and poor emotional adjustment for family caregivers who rely heavily on religious beliefs to cope.  However, the decisions made by patients and families to prolong life are individual and unique…there are no 2 situations alike, and therefore, must not be judged.

Another study of terminally ill patients with cancer and their partners show that the well-being of both patients and partners are interrelated.  Which implies that any unrelieved psychological symptoms of the patient increased the risk of long-term psychological morbidity of the surviving partners (Walsh S, Culpepper S, and Schmidt M. Testing the Efficacy of a Creative-Arts Intervention With Family Caregivers of Patients With Cancer. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 2004; 36:3, 214-219). 


Health System Struggles with Spiritual Care 


In the same USA Today (March 18, 2009) article, it cites several studies of the lack of services in spiritual care for patients and families with cancer – this is very sad, indeed.  Below are the main points of the article.  To read the rest of the article, click here.

  • Nurses, doctors, and chaplains could do much more to ease the spiritual suffering for patients with terminal cancer
  • More than 70% of patients (N=230) felt their spiritual needs were not met by hospital chaplains, religious communities or others in the health care system (Balboni, T. MD, J of Clincial Oncology 2007)
  • Doctors and nurses are usually uneasy on what to say when it comes to talking about God because they fear that they might be imposing their religious beliefs
  • Lack of traning or skills of health professionals to help cope with spiritual questions
  • Not enough hospital chaplains…many hospital facing dwindling budgets have cut their chaplain service

 Use Creative Interventions in Spiritual Care



In light of these new findings, implement Creative Interventions as an additional activity and treatment  in Spiritual Care, but not replace religious leaders or mentors, nurses, doctors or hospital chaplains.  Here are the benefits of Creative Interventions as it relates to spirituality in patient care:

  • Low cost intervention
  • Promotes emotional bonding between patient, family and friends
  • Fulfills and complies with JACHO and Commission on Cancer Standards in Patient Care (see ‘Advocacy and Accrediting Bodies’ under TOPICS in left sidebar)
  • Based on holistic model and psychoneuroimmunology, i.e., body-mind-spirit-emotional systems are biochemically based and connected (see ‘Science Supporting Creativity in Healthcare’ under TOPICS in left sidebar, and read Candace Pert’s book ‘Molecules of Emotion’)
  • Reduces pain levels
  • Creativity and the arts tends to the spirit…the medical profession tends to the body
  • Provides periods of enjoyment, meditation and reflection
  • The creative process and the arts can be viewed as a non-traditional form of prayer
  • Engaging in the creative process heals the spirit, and therefore, aids in healing the body, mind and emotions (again, read Candace Pert’s book ‘Molecules of Emotion)

“Making art has been of great help to me in my cancer/life journey. It is always interesting to see new members come to the art class for the first time and proclaim they have no art talent. Nonverbal expression is just as valuable, and some times more so to those of us who don’t have the words to express our feelings in processing life.” (Written in email by Creativity Workshop participant to Marti Hand, RN, Artist, Advocate for creativity and the arts in healthcare)


Here’s a thought for you to absorb…

Medical treatment is fully effective only when the whole person is being treated – body, mind, spirit, emotion.

Creativity Workshop for Patients with Cancer & Their Families

cw_hope-lodge-portrait1 cw_hope-lodge-portrait2 cw_hope-lodge-portrait3

I just finished a 2-day Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer & Their Families.  Below are pictures of the participants’ artwork, results of the post questionaire as well as the purpose of the Creativity Workshop.  All of the participants had never painted in their life, and a few of them enjoyed creative activities such as arts ‘n crafts, playing music, gardening, etc.  And yes, they either had or were going through cancer treatment, or were caring for a family member diagnosed with cancer.

They were curious, nervous, and willing to try something new.  On the last day of the Creativity Workshop, most people expressed surprise on their creative abilities to create a self-portrait (but I certainly was not!).

I am thankful to the following institutions and people for supporting and donating their time, art supplies and space: Emory Winship Cancer Institute – Ali Schaffer & Jim Hankins, Davis Academy, Donna Horn, Mary O’Horo, Malika Mannings, Pargen & Lesley Robertson, Helen DeRamus, Marilynn Brandenburger, Nick A Demus, and last but not least, Hope Lodge.

The Purpose of the Creativity Workshop: A growing body of research demonstates that creativity and spirituality can heal by changing a person’s physiology, attitudes, emotional states and perceptions of pain.  Engaging in the creative process has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and decrease the need for pain medication.  Creative activities also stimulates the amygdala in the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters, thereby, reducing pain and triggering the immune system to function more efficiently.  Furthermore, by engaging in creative activities, people with cancer and their families experience reduced stress and anxiety levels, a heightened sense of well-being and develop stronger emotional bonds.

Read again, “The Science Supporting Creativity in Healthcare” located under ‘Topics’ in the left sidebar.

Main Creativity Workshop Project: painting a self-portrait using geometric cut-outs as templates.

And now, the SELF-PORTRAITS! Mind you now, what you see below are first time paintings. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger image.

cw_hope-lodge-portrait5This participant never painted in her life, but was willing to try.  As she was painting, she said a number of times “this looks stupid…”  With much encouragement by the other participants (and myself), she painted this painting.  She didn’t explain what the painting was about, but did share she was very surprised about her creative abilities.



 This person understood the small, but important changes that occurs when engaged in the creative process…said the act of creating took on alot more meaning and changed the imagery to reflect the changes.




This person also never painted before.  She is undergoing chemotherapy.



This Creativity Workshop participant explained she was standing behind the door because she didn’t want to come out.  The triangle shape to the right of the door are the various paths she can take.  This person, also, had never painted before.



This participant never painted before, but did alot of creative activities such as arts ‘n crafts, gardening, etc.



cw_hope-lodge-portrait6This person’s spouse has a large abdominal tumor that is inoperable.  She explained the large circle is the tumor and is pressing against the abdominal organs (semi-circles attached to the large circle).  The figure to the left is the participant fighting and killing the tumor.  This, too, is this person’s first time to try artwork.

Results of the Creativity Workshop post-questionaire:

Dates: Nov 6 & 15, 2008.  Location: Hope Lodge, Decatur, GA

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=6 (there were a total of 7 participants)

The Workshop participants also had the opportunity to add comments regarding the arts intervention, and here what they wrote:

  1. The ease and calmness of the exercises; the comradry
  2. FUN!pink-rose
  3. The instructor was fantabulus! The music was inspiring! The warm up exercises relaxing, and all who participated encouraging!
  4. The instructor was wonderful. I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed being with the group.
  5. A wonderful workshop – I felt alive and creative!
  6. All the colors that you could put on canvas to express yourself.  So peaceful.  Class not long enough.

I’d like to point out the responses to 3 of the questions –

  • After the workshop, I felt more cheerful
  • My mood was improved by the workshop
  • My discomfort, pain or anxiety was diminished during/after the workshop

Only one person indicated ‘as expected’ and five people selected ‘better than expected’ on their current emotional and physical levels.  This means the amygdala in the brain was stimulated to release endorphins, along with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.  So what does this mean?The release of the neurotransmitters helped reduce anxiety and stress levels, lower vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing), and elevate sense of overall well-being.  Moreover, because the neurotransmitter, endorphin (a natural opiate), was stimulated and released, reduced the participants’ pain levels.

I may sound like a broken record, but there is a biochemical  basis and neurochemical process to emotions, which Candace Pert, Ph.D discovered in the early seventies (btw, Dr. Pert discovered the opiate receptor as a graduate student (!) at John Hopkins).  We are multi-dimensional beings with body-mind-spirit-emotion levels, and these systems are in constant interaction and communication with each other.  So, what effects one system/level affects the other three.

Below is a painting about dopamine and it’s effects on the brain, and therefore, the body-mind-spirit-emotional communication system. It’s a good visual representation about what I am talking about…


(‘headrush’ by Marti Hand, 2008)

To read a description about the painting, log onto Marti Hand.com and select the Molecules of Emotion series.

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