It’s so rare that I hear anyone talk about how contemporary art helps us in practical ways. Is there anything more practical than our health? I know from personal experience that art helps me focus, calms me down and makes me feel more at peace. However, there’s more to it than that. Given that, I spoke very briefly with Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber of the Primary Care and Center of Excellence for Women’s Health at Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s no stranger to art therapy ..
MICHAEL: Hello Dr. Kirchgraber, I just have a few questions for you. Has modern medicine found that art has actual health benefits?
DR. KIRCHGRABER: Yes and below is one of the articles (in italics) that supports this belief. Working as a physician in medicine, women’s health and adolescent health, I have been with the Charis Center for Eating Disorders for the last seven years. At that site (it is an Indiana University Health Site), we integrate art therapy into the treatment program and it has proven very useful. Many times, the patients are able to express in their artwork what they can’t express in words.
“There is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative efforts, can enhance one’s moods, emotions and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters.” Staricoff R, Loppert S. --Integrating the Arts into Health Care: Can we affect clinical outcomes? In: Kirklin D, Richardson R eds. The Healing Environment Without and Within. London, England: Royal College of Physicians;2003:63–80.
MICHAEL: Very interesting. What are the actual benefits?
DR: KIRCHGRABER: Art allows us to express feelings that we have a hard time putting into words. It also allows us to more concretely visualize the disease process and how we want our bodies to respond to the disease.
MICHAEL: Wow. That’s interesting.
DR. KIRCHGRABER: Art can help us deal with stress, release tension and create something beautiful. Physicians and other health care providers can use art as therapy as well. It is a great stress reliever. Whether you are creating the art or appreciating it, it helps you look beyond yourself. My husband is a pathologist and enjoys a glass blowing class at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and proudly brings home his work to display.
MICHAEL: It seems that everyone either knows or lives with an artist these days! Who would benefit from art therapy?
DR. KIRCHGRABER: Everyone! It is used most often in psychotherapy and we use it to help treat eating disorders, but art therapy has been shown to be useful in pediatrics, maternity wards, in dialysis units and cancer treatment areas.
And what is art therapy? Art therapy is the engagement with creative activities that can include many different forms. It can be painting, sculpture, drawing, molding, building, etc. It has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can alleviate the burden of chronic disease.
MICHAEL: You know doctor, a lot of folks might question whether “art therapy” actually “legit.” Is it?
DR. KIRCHGRABER: Yes!
“Use of the arts in healing does not contradict the medical view in bringing emotional, somatic, artistic and spiritual dimensions to learning. Rather, it complements the biomedical view by focusing on not only sickness and symptoms themselves, but the holistic nature of the person.” --Furnham A, Forey J. The Attitudes, Behaviors and Beliefs of Patients of Conventional vs. Complementary (alternative) Medicine.” J Clin Psychol. 1994;50(3):458-469.
MICHAEL: Thanks Dr. Kirchgraber. This has been an enlightening chat.