Can “Art” Be Medicine?

For the first time in my 26 years of being a therapist I have cancelled every single client and Jumbo Journal workshop for the entire week.  Some cold virus landed on me and decided to use my body to procreate.  If I didn’t feel so miserable it could be kinky.

Now I truly believe  that Creative Expression in any form – painting, dancing, singing, drawing, scrapbooking, knitting, journaling – is THERAPEUTIC.  

If I walked the walk I should be drawing, painting, collaging, singing and dancing.  Instead I just watched this video while I creatively sneezed into softy tissue and therapeutically moaned.  That’s about all the medicine I can swallow right now. 

P.S.  Please wash your hands after viewing the video because I touched it and

I don’t want you to get sick.
The transcript is below.

(Pictures are from my Therapeutic Creative Expression Workshops)

Transcript: Can Art Be Medicine?

Since the beginning of time art and the creative energy behind it has captured our imagination, energized us, comforted us, and inspired us. Creative expression has an undeniable power providing insight into what it means to be human. Is there something about creativity…how we engage with it and share it with others…that can actually improve our health? Can art be medicine?

Robert A. Gabbay, MD, PhD – Director, Penn State Institute for Diabetes & Obesity
Art has been around since the origins of our species and for it to have lasted as long as it has says something right away about how important and central it is to the human existence.

Edward Hirsch – President, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
There’s never been a culture without art. There’s never been a culture without poetry. There’s never been a culture without music. They must be delivering something to us that we really need for our pscyhes.

Robert A. Gabbay
You think back to those days and all the challenges that existed just to survive and have food, but they still took time for art so obviously it had some value for them. And that value clearly had something to do with health. We’ve forgotten the original stuff that worked quite well before we had all the medications and technologies for treatment.

Captain Jason Berner – US Marine Corps
Here I am a strong, physically demanding warrior. Why do I have to do art? I plan battles. I plan wars. I take life if absolutely necessary. I’m not doing art.

Stephanie Paseornek – Writer, Heart Transplant Recipient
The first second that I’m writing a poem…the first second that I started typing…I lived, I breathed a little bit deeper than I had that whole time. It felt better than trying to communicate with the doctors about how I was feeling or trying to communicate with therapists about how I was feeling because in truth in those situations people are trying to help you but you don’t necessarily know how you’re feeling.

Creative engagement bfings us into the moment. It puts us in touch with who we are and connects us with others. It helps us get unstuck. It helps us move forward.

In very traumatic illnesses and very traumatic situations like war, everyone is changed.

Captain Jason Berner
I lost three marines due to IEDs…I lost several of my friends in one deployment.

Stephanie Paseornek
When I was sixteen years old I had a heart transplant. I was in the hospital for three months.

Captain Jason Berner
I found it odd that each time I did something with art therapy I felt better because there was something in me that was dying to get out. And through art I was able to express it.

Stephanie Paseornek
I remember writing about this. I remember writing to my heart. I remember asking it to please work with me. I remember really almost in letter form just saying that I know this environment isn’t natural for you…I know that you’re in a foreign place and so am I…and together we can find a home.

The first thing is to think about something that you like about being at the hospital. Is there anything you like about being at the hospital? Is there anything good about being here?

Steven M. Safyer, MD – President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center
It’s essential to add other components into traditional medical modalities. Anything from the use of artwork to the use of light, to the use of drama, to the use of storytelling…and the engagement of the patients and the patients’ families in an art experience to help them have the optimal care they deserve.

Charlotte Yeh, MD – Chief Medical Officer AARP Services, Inc.
We are learning that storytelling and arts and emotional health is just as fundamental to well-being as your physical health.

And just thinking about it, talking about it, writing it down, expressing it obliquely, expressing it directly…that can help.

Nobody knows what a scream looks like. Make your own scream.

Helen Meyrowitz – Artist, Alzheimer’s Care Giver
And one of the ways of doing it is to say to yourself, “I am feeling lousy today. I am feeling so goddamned (sic) blue and disgusted I could just scream.” Take out a pen and make a scream. Whatever that looks like…nobody knows what a scream looks like. Make your own scream.

Linda Hettick – North Hill Memore Care
Do you have a memory of the fall leaves…what you used to do and play with them? And what would that be? I remember as a little girl we’d have a bunch of friends and we’d gather up all the leaves and make it into a big pile and jump into it. And you remember doing that?

Captain Jason Berner
I would have never have talked about what this meant. But I was able to express it through something that everybody could see what it was and see what it meant. But it wasn’t me. I was shielded in some ways…I was protected. I was able to express it in a way that was safe for me.

Melissa Walker – Art Therapist & Healing Arts Program Coordinator, National Intrepid Center of Excellence
Drama’s actually encoded as sight, sound, smell.

Captain Frances Stewart, MD – Integrative Medicine Physician, National Intrepid of Excellence
Part of the brain that’s involved in speech called Broca’s Area just really does not work as well when people with PTSD are trying to talk about their experiences.

Melissa Walker
When you’re able to process what you’ve been through using the right hemisphere and then apply words, you’re then re-integrating the brain.

Arts can reduce stress and any emotional overlays that are associated with it. And stress and emotional aspects clearly are related to a variety of hormonal changes that can then lead to disease.

Captain Robert Koffman, MD, MPH – Deputy Director for Clinical Operations, National Intrepid Center of Excellence
I really believe that in the next few years we will have some detailed examples as to what works and those individuals that come in are studied intensely. And in doing so we are able to catch them in that freefall, but at the same time hopefully inform the system in months to years to come.

If all we did was sit back and wait to begin until something’s proven, nothing will ever happen. I predict more and more we will learn the benefits of storytelling, of writing, the use of various art modalities, and we’ll use that in our enviornment to create wellness and health and prove that it works.

Meghan D. Kelly, MSEd, CCLS – Director, Child Life Programs – The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore
My dream for this work would be for it to be accessible in all venues…in the clinics, in the community, in the schools. It’s really such a valuable part of how to teach children and families how to deal with challenges in their life that I can’t imagine a single setting that it wouldn’t be appropriate to put it into.

Can you imagine if the prescription is not only for what the next pill is, or a prescription for not to have too much soda in your diet, but the prescription could also be: where’s your happiness? Where’s your pleasure? Where’s your artwork? Where’s your music? Come in and show me next time.

You don’t need to be an artist to do this kind of art that we’re talking about for healing. Anybody doing anything that feels good to do that is getting something in you out. I think the beauty here is this is all very accessible to virtually everybody.

Even though people might think that art is not the same as medicine, it was my medicine and I think that without it I would have still been sick.

Through simple things…able to create something that makes it okay to feel the way I feel…and help take that burden away.

Scientific research has already shown that harnessing the power of art can promote health and healing. It is now critical to expand these efforts. Exactly how creative expression promotes healing may forever remain somewhat mysterious. But the ability to draw on the power of art to transform and expand our lives, reduce suffering and create new possibilities is beginning to be accepted as real medicine. As real as an antibiotic or surgical procedure.

Medicine has made great strides in the past one hundred years. It’s now time to go one step further by incorporating artistic expression into the ways we provide health and healing. All will stand to benefit.

Foundation for Art and Healing

Read more:

11 comments on “Can “Art” Be Medicine?

  1. I hope you are feeling better!
    And Yes! You know I believe art can heal. Perhaps not all wounds, but it can make things more bearable.

    wish I could make you chicken soup.


  2. Positive Psychology encourgaes people to engage in ‘Flow’, which offers many benefits.
    Creative arts that people can ‘lose’ themselves in are a wonderful means by which a state of ‘flow’ can be facilitated.
    Thsnks for sharing 🙂


  3. Wonderful post Judy.
    When I got a chronic illness, I was told to journal.
    I filled the pages of a journal and then threw it away.
    Ten years later, I joined a healing writing and art class.
    I am always surprised when I read what I put on paper.
    The writing and imagery is so healing for me.
    Somehow I tap into something I can’t do otherwise.


    • Dear My Best Friend Becca,
      I am very good medicine. If it weren’t for me my Human would just become a slug. Whenever I see her just sitting there I ask her to get me dog cookies so she won’t become immobile. Sometimes I have to ask over and over and over and over but it’s for her own good. I’ve had to get very creative when she just moans and feels sorry for herself. I’ve had to resort to taking her Klennex out of the waste basket and ACTUALLY had to start eating it to divert her attention or I make her scratch my stomach and rub my head to take her mind off of herself.
      I do sacrifice myself but that’s just who I am.


Click on "LIKE" to let us know you visited. Comments HERE!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.