The Use of Art in Medical Health Care

In recent years there has been a growing interest in incorporating the arts in the medical health care field.  Research has shown that the arts decrease stress, improve communication, and help the healing process. With this information, hospitals, medical centers and care facilities are beginning to incorporate visual arts, music, and writing programs into medical care services.  This more integrative model of health care recognizes the connection of body, mind, and spirit.

Though I do not have a background in health care I am always interested in learning more about how art influences well-being and given that November is Art and Health Month I have been reading information on this subject. I thought I would share a few examples of how different art forms are being used in medical care.

Visual Art

With the recognition that art actually helps people feel better and heal more quickly, Sacred Heart Medical Center in Oregon has worked with an arts consultant for hospitals to select artwork intended to be comforting, orienting and calming to patients and, as a result, help promote their healing.

Another example of the use of visual arts is the Art-Cart program in St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas, where a rolling gallery of photographic art work makes the rounds, allowing patients to select images for their room.

Music

Eisenhower Medical Center in southern California has had an arts program in place since 2001 and has a staff of nine musicians, four visual artists and a writer.  The Healing Harps program at this medical center offers patients and staff harp lessons.

“Studies and statistical evidence from major hospitals across the country have shown that relief from anxiety, pain, difficult breathing, nausea and depression are often addressed by the use of live harp music, the special timbre of which induces a deep relaxation response which in turn allows the body to heal itself at a more rapid rate.”

– Healing Harps program description.

Writing

Hospitals around the country have writing groups to help patients heal physically and mentally.  US News carried a story about Sutter Health Systems in California offering a range of writing workshops t patients as well as family members and care givers.

Research indicates that after writing exercises the levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone that may affect immune levels, are lower and studies have shown that writing about trauma improves the health of people with chronic disease.

Use of the arts in health care is steadily moving forward. The small but growing body of research is demonstrating the positive impact art has on health, healing and well-being.  Further research on this subject along with partnerships between art institutions, schools and heal care organizations will allow for more research and greater engagement between the arts and health.

For More Information

Current Research in Evidence-Based Art Programs From American Art Resources
Future of the Arts and Health Care Green Paper

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