Tag Archives: Creative Interventions

How an Occupational Therapist Used Creativity to Help a Child…

Occupational therapists help patients from a variety of backgrounds, from those who have debilitating medical conditions to soldiers returning from war with multiple injuries. My youngest sister has Down syndrome, so she has been working with an occupational therapist since she was a toddler. Kaitlin’s therapists have all been wonderful people. They’ve helped her develop her motor skills, which is a very important part of living a healthy life. However, one of the greatest things that Kaitlin’s occupational therapists have done for her is teaching her the value of creativity.

An occupational therapist’s goal is not only to address their patients’ physical needs, but to take into consideration the social, psychological and environmental factors that impact their patients’ progress. For my sister, especially when she was a baby, getting her to participate in things was not always easy. She would watch, but not join in when her twin brother (who does not have Down syndrome) would play. It wasn’t until her occupational therapist started using the arts in their sessions that Kaitlin started to get involved for the first time.

Creativity Isn’t Just for Artists

In occupational therapy, being able to think outside the box can be extremely beneficial. Occupational therapists have many techniques at their disposal when it comes to utilizing creativity. The arts are more than just tools for self-expression. They are also extremely valuable for hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning and speech development. For Kaitlin, her journey started with music.

She could make sounds and was very slowly starting to talk. Her occupational therapist started teaching her some songs, both the verbal lyrics and incorporating some sign language and hand gestures. From the very first note, Kaitlin was engaged. She watched intently the first few times. Then she started making sounds along with the music and moving her hands. Soon after, she was starting to learn some of the words and she’d mastered all of the movements. To see this sweet little girl go from knowing a handful of words to being able to sing entire songs was moving beyond belief.

Using the Arts as Patients Grow Up

As Kaitlin got older, her therapists continued to introduce new ways to use art to help aid her development. Since music was so effective, they continued to use songs to get Kaitlin moving and help with her speech development. Once her fine motor skills reached the point where she could hold a pencil on her own, they started using art as well.

I have stacks and stacks of pictures that Kaitlin has drawn for me throughout the years. Not only did drawing and writing help her, it also brought her immense joy. A box of crayons and a notebook are all my sister needs to have a good time. Seeing her skills develop is always wonderful, but seeing her happiness is the greatest gift of all.

Kaitlin is now about to go into high school. The creativity that her occupational therapists fostered in her is a huge part of the beautiful young lady that she has become. She still loves to sing and draw. She also has been dancing since elementary school. Whenever she is performing, she is truly in her element. As I watched her perform during her last dance recital, I thought of how far she’s come from the days when she used to just watch. Every pirouette and plié was a testament to the creativity her occupational therapists applied to her work.

This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin writes about physical therapy degrees and occupational therapy graduate programs for US News University Directory. For more information please visit http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com

Brain feels rewarded while looking at art…

Did you know that looking at paintings rather than photographs activates the brain’s “reward system?”  A very small study (8 study participants) by Emory University School of Medicine concludes the brain responds more strongly when viewing a painting than when looking at a photograph.

Volunteers were asked to view paintings by famous and not-so-famous artists and photographs while researcher scanned the volunteers’ brain wave activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI.  Interestingly, the fMRI revealed the ventral striatum of the brain is more strongly activated when viewing a painting rather than a photograph of a similar subject.  Btw, the work of famous artists selected for the study included Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and others.

According to Krish Sathian MD,  a neurologist at Emory, the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex  (parts of the brain’s reward system) are the areas in the brain that reacts strongly when viewing paintings.  These same areas are also strongly stimulated during high reward behaviors such as drug addiction and gambling.

Results from the above study is different from other art appreciation studies that used brain scans to examine how the brain responds when veiwing art considered attractive or ugly.  Participants were asked to give a rating based  how well she/he liked it.  These studies have shown that the amygdala, involved in emotional reactions, as well as different regions in the orbitofrontal cortex are involved in aesthetic preference.  See previous post on this study.

I don’t know how much this matters or even if it’s important, but different areas of the brain are stimulated based on whether one is looking at art for personal preference (aesthetics) and when looking at paintings versus photographs.  In other words, the brain regions activated by paintings (as opposed to photographs) were independent from those brain regions that became active during aesthetic preference.

Interestingly, the results reveal that viewing paintings not only stimulated the ventral striatum, but it also activated the hypothalamus (associated with appetite regulation and other critical functions) and the orbitofrontal cortex (associated with risk-taking, impulse control and detection of social rules).  Assuming these results are correct and can be replicated, a few thoughts arise with regard to incorporating the arts in healthcare…

  • If people/patients are engaged in art-making, would the ventral striatum react even more strongly than simply looking at paintings?
  • If viewing art stimulates the hypothalamus responsible for appetite (one of many functions), one could assume artwork in healthcare facilities may help patients with poor appetites.
  • And lastly, incorporating the arts in healthcare settings will bring about all those associated benefits I wrote about in a previous post, which you can read here.

Source: PsychCentral “Brain feels rewarded when looking at art.”

Note: The study was inspired by the work of marketing experts Henrik Hagtve and Vanessa Patrick. The original purpose was to explore the effects of using a painting on a product’s advertising/packaging makes that product more appealing.

Give Patients A Lift With Music…a hospice story


Vitas Innovative Hospice Care in Miami, Florida has a music appreciation program where volunteers share their musical talents with hospice patients throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Volunteers include non-professional singers, certified music therapists, and those with a passion for music and wish to share their talents with patients experiencing end-of-life matters.  According to one certified music therapist volunteer, Jeff Engel, he uses music familiar to patients in order to give them a cognitive workout.  Through his experience,  he found “familiar music and familiar conversation about things that were important to patients many years ago often helps to retard the degeneration of cognitive impairment.”  To read the full story, click here.

In healthcare, scientific evidence of the usefulness or efficacy of medical and non-medical interventions has long been a requirement, and these principles applies to incorporating arts interventions in healthcare.  An article titled “Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care: a Review of the Empirical Data” examines 11 research studies on the effects of music with patients.  Of the 11 studies, 6 are identified as having significant differences supporting the use of music therapy for patients with terminal illnesses.

Reported benefits of music therapy by patients are:

  • Significant decrease in painPre-test and post-test measurements using Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire.
  • Improvement in mood and anxiety, and decrease in discomforts .
  • Increase spiritual well-beingMany times people with end-of-life conditions request spiritual or religious music.  One study measured spirituality with the 18-item Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) and completed by patients after each music therapy session.  Analysis showed a significant increase in SWBS scores on the days music therapy was provided.
  • Enhanced quality of lifeInterestingly, the more music therapy sessions patients received, higher quality of life is experienced even as their physical condition declined.  The quality-of-life tool used in this study was the Hospice Quality-of-Life Index-Revised (HQOLI), a 29 questionnaire completed by patients.  Source: Hilliard R. Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care: a Review of the Emirical Data.  Music Department , State University of New York, New Paltz, NY.  eCAM 2005; 2(2) 173-178.  doi:10.1093/ecam/neh076

Although the above studies had small sample sizes thereby limiting generalization, the author of the article, Russell Hilliard, stresses the importance of designing music therapy studies that allow for generalization of the results.  And why is all this scientific inquiry in hospice and palliative care important?  Here are a few reasons:

  1. Insurance companies (federal, state and private) seek data/information on the efficacy or effectiveness of a treatment.
  2. Because complementary programs such as music therapy, creative programs, etc. need funding, healthcare administrators  need assurance these programs will enhance and raise the standard of care for patients, families and communities.
  3. If healthcare organizations truly want to be innovative, creative and provide patient-centered care, then a willingness to explore, experiment and research other avenues of treatment modalities is necessary.  ‘Patient-centered care’ is a call to action, not a trendy catch-all phrase mouthed by the healthcare industry and healthcare professionals.
  4. Evidence based practice helps to establish effective treatment interventions or best practices in ensuring high standard of care.

Using Creativity and the Arts to Heal Patients (and staff)…

What is creativity?  What does it mean to be creative?  The word or phrase is usually associated with artists and artist types, be they painters, dancers, musicians, writers, crafters and comedians.  It’s a word that is becoming commonplace…a buzz word relevant to the times and uttered by businesses, academics, the public and by those you least expect to murmur ‘creative.’  Everyone  is using  ‘creativity’ and ‘creative’ to describe a way of strategizing and problem-solving work and personal goals.  It’s no different in healthcare.

Here’s a few thoughts and definitions on creativity…

Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create,  to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new. ~Mirriam-Webster

The ability to make new combinations of social worth.  ~John Haefele (CEO and entrepreneur)

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.  ~Albert Einstein 

Creativity is fundamental to human experience. ~David Bohm

 And here are my thoughts on creativity and the arts in healthcare.  Through exposure and participation in the creative process and the arts, it promotes unity within oneself and with others, be it families, spouses, extended family, and all of those who connect with us.  Creativity and the arts ultimately embraces and promotes social peace.  Engaging in creative activities, whether actively or passively, brings forth…

  • compassion
  •  tolerance
  • kindness
  • harmony
  • expansion
  • growth
  • healing on multiple dimensions: body-mind-soul-emotion
  • collaboration
  • respect

This multi-dimensional healing begins on an individual level and ripples out to include neighborhoods, states, national and global communities.  What happens when you toss a pebble or small stone into calm waters?  It creates ripples or waves in the water  and radiates outward until the energy of the wave dissipates.  Creative activities creates creative energy and momentum, and all its associated benefits.

Creativity  isn’t just about thinking of new strategies to fix old problems or to heal old wounds.  It’s a different way of thinking, which brings about a new way of acting, behaving and interacting with others – it’s a natural and humanistic way of life.  By taking creative action, it can dramatically challenge our existing belief systems, our values, and encourage us to take risks we normally wouldn’t take (both in thought and action). 

Creative actions and creative interventions are what’s needed in healthcare…in patient care…in caring for healthcare professionals and staff…caring for local communities.

Creativity in Healthcare = Healing = Individual and Social Peace


A Few Examples of Creative Programs in Healthcare…

Here’s how creativity and the creative process are being implemented in a few health systems.  In U.S. News (2006), a series of articles titled “The Fine Art of Healing the Sick”  highlights a growing trend of using the arts and the creative modalities to help patients alleivate stress, anxiety, provide diversional activities and to heal.  The side benefits of participating, whether active or passive,  vibrates out to include all persons within the healthcare organization…patients, families, healthcare professionals, para-professionals,  staff,  administration, consultants and local communities. 

Here’s a few examples of the methods used to integrate the arts into patient care (but read the U.S. News article!).  (Larson C. The Fine Art of Healing the Sick: Embracing the benefits of writing, music, and art. U.S. News/Best Health, June 5, 2006.)


1. A t the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine, which is a part of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, it provides music therapy and researches its effects on children with asthma and adults with cardiac and pulmonary problems, and treats the musicians with medical problems.

2. Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare has medical music therapists providing music therapy sessions to their pediatric patients during diagnostic testing.  The result?  No wiggling, quirming or crying during the test.  No need to repeat tests or extend employee work hours which ultimately saves money for the hospital.

3. Sutter Health System in Sacramento, California offers six writing groups a week through its Literature, Arts, and Medicine Program for patients, caregivers, and the local community.  Studies validate both writing and visual art plays a role in reducing pain and decrease physical symptoms of illness.  One physician who refers many patients to the writing group stated she had a patient with severe asthma and chronic lung disease joined the writing group has improved her symptoms and well-being.  Note: engaging in creative work does not cure physical illnesses, but helps heal on a multi-dimensional level: physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

These creative programs are part of a growing trend to incorporate writing, music and the visual arts into the clinical treatment of patients, a.k.a  patient care.  Here’s a few other creative interventions to incorporate into healthcare organizations:

  • Laughing Clubs
  • Artist-in-Residence program
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Humor
  • Creative exhibits with work created by patients, families, staff and healthcare professionals
  • Drumming circles
  • Indoor and outdoor gardens
  • Art at the bedside for patients and families

Remember, creative interventions are not just for patients and families.  Providing patient care, whether by nurses, physicians, PT, OT, counselors, social workers, patient transporters, dietary aides, housekeeping staff can be physically demanding, emotionally draining and sometimes thankless.  A creative healthcare organization takes care of not only patients, but also its professional and para-professional staff.

Physicians and Creative Interventions…

Have you ever wondered whether physicians believe in the healing properties of the creative process or even considered utilizing creative interventions  in their professional work?  A post written September 11, 2009,  titled ‘Healing the Healer’  highlights one physician (Robert Climko, MD, MBA) who embraces and implements the creative process through the written word, also known as narrative medicine.  The use of Creative Interventions in healthcare applies not only to patient care, but also healthcare professionals.  In either case, engaging in the creative process epouses the Self-Care theory taught in nursing curriculums.

Here’s another physician who embraces and promotes creativity and arts activities.  A family practitioner based at University of California, Gabrella Miotto, MD, MPH discovered the healing benefits of engaging in the arts through personal experience.  In an article in a Family Medicine journal, Dr. Miotto states,

“What is clear is that healing is an inner process through which a person becomes whole, more individuated, though not necessarily cured, and that creative expression allows us to create meaning through our personal inner intuitive resources.”

With this newfound belief, Dr. Miotto and artist Laurie Zagon, introduced a therapeutic arts program for adult patients suffering from grief, anxiety or depression.  The arts program is called ‘Bien Estar (Well-Being).  Wanting to share her belief that engaging in creative interventions with her colleagues, Dr. Miotto presented a workshop titled “Creativity and Healing: An Experiential Workshop,”  at the American Academy of Family Physicians Scientific Assembly and Wonca 2004 meeting.

By implementing creativity and the arts in healthcare systems, patients, families, staff, healthcare professionals and local communities all benefit by enhancing collaboration, harmony, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, empathy and self-care.  Below are a few creative interventions worth considering…

Artist-in-Residence program





Laughing Clubs

Creative exhibits with work created by patients, families, staff and healthcare professionals

Drumming circles

Indoor and outdoor gardens

Art at the bedside for patients and families




 And now I leave you with this poem by one of my favorite poets…Rumi

Rules About Restraint

There is nourishment like bread

that feeds one part of your life

and nourishment like light for another.

There are many rules about restraint

with the former, but only one rule

for the latter, Never be satisfied.

Eat and drink the soul substance,

as a wick does with the oil it soaks

in. Give light to the company.

~Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

translated by Coleman Barks 

 Email me if you want the bibliography.


Lilly Oncology On Canvas

Many of you may have heard of the traveling exhibit “Lilly Oncology on Canvas” and may have even seen it.  For those of you unfamiliar with the exhibit and it’s purpose, here’s the background story…

The Lilly ‘Oncology On Canvas: Expressions of a Cancer Journey’ is a biennial art competition and exhibition that honors the journeys people face when confronted with a cancer diagnosis.  “The biennial competition invites individuals diagnosed with any type of cancer, their families, friends, caregivers and healthcare providers, to express, through art and narrative, the life-affirming changes that give their cancer journeys meaning.”

The program was started by Lilly USA, LLC  in 2004 in partnership with the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS).  Btw, Lilly is a global pharmeutical company started in 1876 by Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical chemist and U.S. civil war veteran.  National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) is an advocacy group supporting quality cancer care for all Americans and empowers people with cancer to advocate for themselves.

Since it’s launch in 2004, Lilly Oncology On Canvas received more than 400 pieces of art from 23 countries.  Then in 2005, the artwork began it’s journey as  a traveling exhibit to more than 100 cities and seen by millions of people.  The 2006 competition received more than 2,000 pieces of art from 43 countries and journeyed close to 200 cities globally. 

And the journey continues…

Last year’s Lilly Oncology On Canvas competition was open to U.S. and Puerto Rico residents and received approximately 600 entries.  For 2008, the ‘Oncology On Canvas’ competition awarded 26 prizes to 20 cancer charities selected by the 19 winners in various categories.

For the month of November 2009, artwork from ‘Oncology On Canvas’ will be shown at 55 different locations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Below are the links to Lilly’s ‘Oncology On Canvas’ and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS):

 As you look at the artwork created by individuals diagnosed with cancer, their families, friends, caregivers and healthcare providers, read their stories of why they felt compelled to create, be it paintings or photographs – it’s quite moving.  Below are a few quotes from Lilly’s ‘Oncology On Canvas’ website:

“While fighting her battle…she found she could express her feelings by painting.  The creative activity relieved her stress and anxiety.  She referred to the experience as mental and spiritual healing – not to be confused with a physical cure…She taught me by painting I could stay in spiritual contact with her.”  Look at the painting and read this mother’s story at Lilly Oncology On Canvas website.

“The American Cancer Society uses the symbol of the daffodil for it’s campaign to raise awareness and funding for cancer.  To give a daffodil is to give hope to the cancer patient, friend , family and caregiver.” See the painting and read this healthcare professional’s story at Lilly Oncology On Canvas website.

“My artwork is in comic strip form because I believe God uses Humor to help us heal.  Cartoons are fun…Fun is good.”  Look at the drawing and read this person’s story (she was diagnosed with cancer) at Lilly Oncology On Canvas website.



Time and time again, whether it’s reading research articles or conducting Creativity Workshops for People With Cancer,  my belief that engaging in creative interventions reduces stress and anxiety levels is reinforced.  For example, in the first story above, the mother states her daughter’s experience with painting was ‘mental and spiritual healing-not to be confused with a physical cure.’  And there are thousands of stories like this…creative interventions is HEALing!

Andrew Weil, MD in his book ‘Spontaneous Healing,’  writes “The presence of cancer in the body, even in its earliest stages, already represents significant failure of the healing system (meaning the immune system).” (1)   He recommends patients work to improve health and resistance by “making changes on all levels: physical, mental/emotional and spiritual and to seek out HEALers.”

Remember, this being human is a multi-dimensional experience, and our experiences have physical – intellectual – spiritual – emotional components.  This is quite opposite the uni-dimensional approach prevalent in healthcare today.  Its akin to viewing us as unicellular organisms, like amobebas or parameciums rather than the complex, highly evolved, multi-dimensional, multicelluar beings capable of doing great things.

How do you want to be viewed by your healthcare team – as an Amoeba or Human Being?


 amoeba                            OR                         human being



Then, speak up for integrating Creative Interventions  in Healthcare!

Creativity Workshops for People with Cancer…

One to two times a year, I offer complimentary Creativity Workshops for people diagnosed with cancer and their families.  Btw, these are the Creativity Workshops I hope you will donate to.  At the conclusion of Creativity Workshops for People With Cancer, I conduct simple patient/customer satisfaction questionaires.  Below are several examples of paintings created by them at one of the workshops:

To read the stories of the persons who created the above paintings, click here to read the post on this blog.

Also, read ‘Quotes and Stories on Creativity By Patients and Healthcare Professionals’,  ‘The Science Supporting Creativity and the Arts in Healthcare’ under TOPICS in the left sidebar, and view additional paintings created by participants in other Creativity Workshops with People With Cancer & Their Families.

Actively engaging in creative interventions is HEALing.

A Journal for Nurses…


Throughout this blog, I write about integrating creativity and the arts into patient care...into healthcare systems...include a few  Creative Interventions for you to try on your own and with your patients...and promote the use of Creative Interventions with healthcare professionals.

Well, here's another healthcare professional promoting creativity in the form of writing/journaling designed for nurses.  'A Daybook for Beginning Nurses' is geared towards new nurses. Each day begins with an inspirational quote or saying from seasoned nurses and famous personalities across the globe.  Even though the title reads '...for beginning nurses', I think it's good for nurses at all levels.  We all need and want to be inspired, and this inspires us to be grateful.

Here’s a couple quotes from the book…

“Nursing is not for everyone.  It takes a very strong, intelligent, and compassionate person to take on the ills of the world with passion and purpose, and work to maintain the health and well-being of the planet.  No wonder we’re exhausted at the end of the day!” ~donna cardillo, author of this book

And another…

“Once a nurse, always a nurse.  No matter where you go or what you do, you can never truly get out of nursing.  It’s like the Mafia.  You know too much.” ~deb gaudlin

A little information on the author, Donna Cardillo.  She is a nurse and author of the popular “Dear Donna” column in Nursing Spectrum and NurseWeek.  She is also a motivational speaker, workshop leader, author, columnist, and consultant, as well as a daily contributor to Nurse.com.  Donna has written numerous books including Your 1st Year as a Nurse (Random House) and The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses.  She has been a featured health care coach for the Los Angelos Times.  She has written for Imprint, the journal of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA), and has served as keynote speaker for NSNA national conferences.  Donna is a frequent guest on radio and TV, including NBC’s “TODAY” show. 

Below are a few topics Donna talks about during her motivational and educational conferences:

  • Techniques for assertive behavior/communication
  • How nurses have already changed the face of healthcare
  • How to be a nursing advocate
  • Strategies for elevating the profession to new heights
  • What they already have going for them

Visit Donna’s website at www.Nurse-Power.net

You can buy “A Daybook for Beginning Nurses” at amazon.com or nursingknowledge.org. You might just find out you know one of the many nurses, like moi, quoted in the book 🙂  Now, go and buy the book for yourself, a colleague and/or friend!

‘Art By Nurses’ by Lynda McLeod

Creative Interventions are not just for patients…they should be experienced by healthcare professionals too.  Caring for the sick is demanding work, and at times, thankless.  Health professionals need a repieve to rejevenuate themselves, and engaging in creative activities does exactly this.  Self-care principles and theory applies not only to patients and their families, but to healthcare professionals as well.  Who benefits?  Everyone that healthcare professionals interacts with – nurses, doctors, ancillary nursing personnel, social workers, OT, PT, managers and executive staff,  academicians, etc.   By experiencing and expanding your own definition of creativity, it will ultimately benefit you, your patients and everyone else.

Lynda McLeod of Victoria, British Columbia has applied these self-care principles into action.  This week, I invited Lynda to talk about her background in nursing and interest in the arts.  Lynda is a  nurse educator, artist and founder of ‘Art By Nurses’, an online gallery of artwork for sale created by nurse-artists. 

With no further ado, here’s Lynda…

“Since the beginning of my nursing practice I have always used art as a reflective process to help me make sense of the experiences I encounter as a nurse. In fact, I attribute the process of art as the only reason I am still involved in nursing. Being a highly sensitive, creative, person, I found some of my nursing experiences, mainly bearing witness, difficult to unravel.

As an effort to maintain balance and meaning I connect with nature and my family by going on long canoe and kayaking trips along the west coast of BC. The meditative act of painting these moments became my vehicle to transcend the sorrow and arrive at another plane of understanding. I have no formal art education in technique, color or brushwork; instead, I draw on my passion for nursing and the transformational relationships formed while teaching the next generation of registered nurses

I started the web site company based on a belief that many nurses engage in the meditative process of art in order to make meaning of the experiences they encounter as healers. By creating art and sharing their artistic visions, nurses work to maintain their health and support each other in a very rewarding, yet demanding profession.

ArtbyNurses.com brings nurses together using art. We share the healing qualities of art with the wider community to spotlight our profession, illustrate the benefits of art as a self-care process and celebrate our artistic talents.

We encourage nurses to join Art by Nurse to sell their art in a virtual gallery. A percentage from each sale is automatically deposited into an Art Fund for Nurses. Registered nurses can apply for funds to use art as a strategy in maintaining balance and meaning in their lives as healers. Retaining healthy nurses in the midst of a nursing shortage is the ultimate goal of Art by Nurses.

Support your colleagues and join Art by Nurses as an artist or an associate member.”  ~lynda mcleod


Don’t forget to visit Lynda at her website ‘Art By Nurses’

“Narrative Medicine: Healing the Healer” – an interactive Creativity Workshop for Healthcare Professionals

Back in September, September 3 to be exact, Bob Climko, MD, MBA  and I facilitated a Creativity Workshop titled “Narrative Medicine: Healing the Healer” for healthcare professionals.  This 3rd annual conference held by Georgia School for Addiction Studies titled ‘Keys to Change: Prevention, Treatment and Recovery’ could not have been more appropiate as our world adapts to changing paradigms in current economic, leadership, social and personal transformations in vision, mission and attitudes.

In healthcare, change is also occurring, albeit slowly.  But positive change, no matter the pace, is good.  Historically, Nightingalethe medical model – a world of scientific and technological breakthroughs to ‘cure’ human conditions – prevailed.  And the ‘art’ of healing the sick, utilitzing nature and the arts, and honoring human dignity – lost.  However, there is a stirring in healthcare to provide services that are truly patient centered and to focus on multi-dimensional healing.  And the concept of integrating nature, creativity and the arts in healthcare are a couple of these services.   Other terms for these ‘newer’ services are: complementary therapies, integrative medicine, alternative therapies, etc.  But, these therapies are not new…they existed since Hippocrates2the beginning of time.  Both Hippocrates and Florence Nightingale believed in treating patients as multi-dimensional beings by addressing the physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional realms.  They believed in the benefits of nature, lighting and the arts as important components to the healing process.

Active participation in creativity and the arts by patients, families, staff, healthcare professionals and the larger commUNITY encourages collaboration, harmony, tolerance of differing opinions and viewpoints, acceptance, acknowledges and appreciates the creative process, flexibility and patience.



Now, back to “Healing the Healer”  Creativity Workshop!

Purpose of the Workshop:

1. The use of the written word and art activity as healing interventions.  Through careful listening to one another’s stories through the written and spoken word, and process of art making and presentation, healthcare professionals (healers) may begin to reconnect with their own healing spirit.

2. To introduce, promote and utilize the concept of integrating creativity and the arts into clincal practice.

Description of the Workshop:

Two arts activites, writing and art-making, were chosen for participants (18 healthcare professionals) to tell and show why they chose to enter healing professions for their careers. The writing portion was  conducted by Bob Climko, MD, MBA and the art-making by Marti Hand, RN, MPA, Artist.  Writing, as explained by Dr. Climko, was the third ear.  Creating art accesses the soul and heart regions of the body.


(Healthcare professionals creating their masks during “Healing the Healer” workshop)


The healing professionals wrote poignant stories of particular clients/patients who they treated and left a lasting impression – these were the reasons why participants entered the professions they did.

In the art making activity, the instructions were to create masks representing their reasons to become healthcare professionals.  Interestingly, there was not a single person who followed the guidelines!  Rather, all the masks created represented their current physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional states.  Most participants explained their masks, and then told the story behind the masks…something I believe would not have happened without the art-making piece.

Active  participation in the creative process enhances collaboration, harmony, tolerance, acceptance, flexibility, and in this case – catharsis.


(Example of mask created by “Healing the Healer” participant)

By implementing creativity and the arts in healthcare systems, patients, families, staff, healthcare professionals and local communities all benefit:






Laughing Clubs

Art exhibits with work created by patients, families, staff and healthcare professionals

Drumming circles

Indoor and outdoor gardens

Art at the bedside for patients and families


Turning Swords to Paintbrushes, and Warriors to Painters…


On October 12, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled “Turning Swords to Pens, and Warriors to Writers.”  The story summarizes an effort organized by the Writers Guild of America in mentoring wounded U.S. military veterans to write their stories.  The writing workshop received support from the Wounded Warrior Project, and the National Endowment for the Arts Operation Homecoming.  Below is a summary of the article, some information on traumatic brain injury (TBI),traumatic brain injury and my recommendation to offer painting  and the visual arts as a healing modality for self-expression of the horrors and psychic wounds of war.

Here’s are few veterans’ responses on the writing workshop…

  • One veteran struggled to find what exactly it was that he wanted to say.
  • Another said “…there’s something in my heart…I feel like it’s a calling to write.”
  • Yet, another veteran’s real reason for attending the writing workshop was to sharpen her writing skills for a historical compilation of her family history, and the role America plays in their lives.

Writing offers veterans an avenue for expressing personal stories and experiences of combat, and is a fine medium for those capable and desiring to write.  However,  for veterans with traumatic brain severe-nerve-damageinjuries, writing may not be the best arts modality to offer due to nerve damage or loss of neural connections within the brain. This loss of neural connections may lead to many of the symptoms associated with brain injuries. Depending on the location,  severity, and rapidness of treatment for traumatic brain injuries, there may be difficulties with the following (in relationship to writing).

  • Inability to focus on task
  • Difficulty with problem solving
  • Inability to express language (Broca’s Aphasia)
  • Slower thinking
  • Inability to attend to more than one object at a time
  • Inability to name an object (Anomia)
  • Inability to locate the words for writing (Agraphia)
  • Problems with reading (Alexia)
  • Inability to focus visual attention
  • Difficulties with eye and hand coordination

 (Source: Brain Injury Association of America www.biasusa.org)

To learn more about the other myriad symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries in the military, visit the link below – DHCC.

According to DHCC  (Deployment Health Clinical Center) , the website states that early mild TBI symptoms may appear subtle, but they can lead to significant, life-long impairment in an individual’s ability to function physically, cognitively and emotionally.  Btw, DHCC is located at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

In a New England Journal of Medicine article on TBI in the military, it  Iraq-Soldiers-PTSD15dec04reported 56%  of those diagnosed with TBI are considered moderate or severe, and 44% mildAlso, some symptoms of TBI overlap with those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).  Those in the military are usually young and healthy, and have a good chance to recover from TBI.  However, they have been hurt in terrible ways which may complicate and affect their recovery outcome. (1)

Use paintbrushes rather than pens…

Given the cognitive, visual and motor coordination problems veterans paintbrushesexperience as a result of TBI, writing may not be the best avenue for self-expression.  Painting (and the visual arts) as a creative intervention is a much better choice of medium.  Why?

  • With writing, there is a tendency for  internal editing and censoring of the written word, and this is by those of us without brain injuries!  Imagine the frusration of veterans suffering from mild to moderate  symptoms of  TBI.
  • Writing requires fine eye – hand coordination. Painting, on the other hand,  involves more gross motor coordination.
  • Painting requires less cognitive and visual perfection or acuity.  For example, Claude Monet painted despite his progressing blindness.

Claude Monet water lilies

(Claude Monet, water lilies, 1840-1926)

  • Painting utilizes imagery rather than words to express psychological and emotional states.
  • In painting, there is no right or wrong methods, techniques or colors to convey meaning and thoughts.  Writing requires concentrated effort, exactness and command of the written language.
  • Paintbrush handles can be adapted for those unable to hold thin paintbrushes.
  • There is less internal editing with painting.

Email me if you want the bibliography.