The Arts (hearts) in Healing

The arts in healing panel featured Jennie Hulette, Victoria Myers, Melinda Ritchie, Martha Newman, Elizabeth Kramer Try The Society for Arts in Healthcare for more information.

Careful to emphasize that the arts in healing is not therapy," the arts representatives described the many and unplanned ways that the arts have led to healing.

For example, Diavolo, who will perform at the IdeaFestival, was in New Orleans shortly after Katrina and offered, in their own words, a simple "escape" for residents. As a dance troupe, Diavolo believes in the healing power of movement. Physically, it releases endorphins, allowing individuals to "be released in their bodies" for a moment. Emotionally, it's a "new place for you to go to."

While initially a "fiscal decision" - it was much easier to stay put rather than to try to get back to the west coast - the decision to stay and find ways to make a difference locally through dance has become something that many of the dancers in Diavolo now look forward to.

Yes, there is a constant demand for measurables and metrics. But it's becoming a more accepted part of the healing community. For the mentally ill and traumatized in particular, the arts have become a more and more accepted modality for healing. Health care givers, who are exposed to intense suffering, have benefited. And in fact, some of the best feedback comes from nurses and doctors, who don't always see their places of work as places of healing too.

There is empirical evidence that the arts in workplace lower the costs of keeping highly skilled practitioners. One third-year resident at the University of Louisville talked about the need for "narrative medicine," a form of practice that will offer physicians a way to attend to their work as whole people, not simply as scientists.

For many in need of healing, music, dance, visual arts and drama all have an avenue toward self confidence.

On one doctor's chart, the orders were "no pain medication, until movement had been tried." For individuals who might be thinking of hurting themselves, the arts don't generally give them the means to act on those thoughts.

"Music therapy," like "physical therapy," has become a certified practice associated with developing protocols. Key now: how can merger of the medical and current arts-in-healing practice continue?

One of the unexpected outcomes is the pairing of artists and the "patient," who interact on an equal basis. Both have a say in what transpires.

There are challenges. Artists, for example, don't understand infection control. Everything they do is based on intuition. "The fiber artist may resist putting his or her work behind plexiglass." For administrators, it's not always the easiest arrangement.

This was just a sample of the discussion that often described the balance needed between the demands of medical science which wants provable outcomes and often wants to "intellectualize" everything, versus the arts, which use intuition and the sublime to bridge the mind-body gap.