Why We Need the Arts in Medicine

Check out this article by Gary Christenson, M.D., on the value of including the arts in both medical education and healthcare in general.

Here’s a break down of the main topics:

1. Studying the arts makes medical students into better doctors

2. The arts have therapeutic benefits

3. The arts can help prevent disease

4. The arts can improve the patient experience

5. The arts can promote physician well-being

Hat tip— the Art Therapy Alliance on Twitter.

What Is It About Art That Can Potentially Cause Harm?

Shared by Dr. Laura Dessauer via the Art Therapy Alliance on LinkedIn.

This article, found in the International Journal of Art Therapy, is an excellent reminder that although using art therapeutically may seem straight forward, it isn’t. Art making is powerful and reaches parts of oneself that may have been unconscious, semiconscious and defended away. Therefore, when therapists or therapeutic programs incorporate art into their practice with little training they may not realize they are exposing their clients to the risk of doing more harm than good.


The notion of arts-based risk is rarely acknowledged outside of art therapy. This paper describes an injury sustained as a result of art activity. The case was subject to legal proceedings which established arts practitioner and organisational negligence. The case was consequently settled out of court for a large sum. The paper reports the legal argument and explores what the process tells us about how art can both help and harm participants. This specifically concerns the power of art to make the subjective seem real and the need for practitioners to able to competently assess participants’ psychological vulnerability to this. The case represents an important milestone in the current arts and health debate, particularly with regard to the protection of the public. Lessons to be learnt for organisations seeking to deliver arts and health projects to vulnerable people are discussed.

Springham, Neil (2008) ‘Through the eyes of the law: What is it about art that can harm people?’, International Journal of Art Therapy, 13:2, 65 – 73

Project Ability Explores Autism

Pum Dunbar Art Show

Pum Dunbar Art Show.

Interview with artist Pum Dunbar, from Project Ability:

“I have Asperger’s and I painted for a number of years in the Project Ability studios, which provided me with materials and a safe space where I could paint. Later in 2000 I began training as an art therapist but I didn’t complete my training, because after two years I discovered that it didn’t matter how proficient I was at understanding the landscape of psychotherapy, I needed to understand myself and learn how to have real relationships with myself, the world and others.”

To learn more about Project Ability in Glasgow, check out their website here

RAW Art Works: Jason Cruz

Jason Cruz

Jason Cruz

Congratulations to Boston art therapist Jason Cruz! He was chosen by Bank of America as a Local Hero, a part of their Neighborhood Excellence Initiative.

“The foundation of RAW is art therapy. Our goal is to have a space where kids can really find out who they want to become..

Here you can talk about that stuff…those life choices [they’re] considering…and make art. A lot of our kids, from what they tell me, would stay in gangs or join them, would have been shot or killed…would be pregnant, would be addicted to drugs [if it weren’t for RAW]”…

View a video of Jason discussing his work here.

Hat tip, Cathy Malchiodi for originally posting this on fb.

Demystifying the Online Presence: Art Therapists and the Internet

Save the date: August 4th, FREE webinar hosted by AATA with yours truly! Register here.

It’s natural to feel skeptical or overwhelmed about the changing nature of social interaction and marketing. Although disregarding these changes may feel like the safe choice, this also limits your ability to network professionally, reach new clients and help others.

This Webinar, presented by Liz Beck, a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) living in the San Francisco Bay Area, will address common questions asked by art therapists about the benefits and pitfalls of having a digital presence, giving you the tools to decide whether being available online is right for you.

Topics include:
• What it means to have an online presence, and how it’s useful.
• Common questions and concerns about having an online presence.
• Appropriate places for a therapist to build an online presence, including a discussion about Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
• Why having a website is important.
• Why it’s important to keep your online content updated.
• What information is useful to include on a professional website.
• Simple guidelines to keep your professional online presence ethical.

If you know anyone who would benefit from joining this webinar, please encourage them to attend. There are way too many art therapists out there who avoid getting online and using new technology to the benefit of themselves and their clients.

Thank you for your support!

The Drexel Creative Arts Therapy Program

Left as a comment, Lauren asks:

How competitive is it to get into the Creative arts therapy program at Drexel? To my knowledge, it seems like the most intensive art therapy graduate program. Can you describe your experience in the program?

Any type of information would be really helpful! Thanks.

Hi Lauren,

At this point, I’m not sure how many people apply to the Drexel CAT program vs. how many are accepted. I remember there was a group interview (with multiple potential students, the director and assistant director of the program), which was followed by an individual interview. I brought my portfolio with me, which I went over during my 1:1 interview. I also had strong grades and Miller Analogies Test scores, which helped to seal the deal, although I think there’s some leniency afforded to those who seem like a “good fit” in the program.

The Drexel art therapy program was intensive—5 days a week, full time classes and internships, plus lots of reading and writing to do at home. There was still time for fun, but it was a pretty big adjustment for everyone in the program.

My background in taking lots of psychology courses (and history courses, that have huge reading and writing assignments) during my undergrad was extremely beneficial. Many students who had a fine arts background, with very little experience in academia, seemed overwhelmed by the workload and expectations for writing quality. They all made it through, but many needed extra support to help with their writing skills.

The program begins by teaching the basics of psychodynamic theory at the same time as teaching about the basics of art therapy theory, which is rooted in psychodynamic theory. If you already have taken a course on psychodynamic theory before entering the Drexel program, you’ll find the first semester much easier.

Some students took issue to the emphasis on psychodynamic theory, which is very prominent during the first year (in your second year there are courses focusing on various other paradigms). During your internships, you may experience the use of only cognitive behavioral therapy or behavioral therapy, and wonder why you need to know about psychodynamics. In my experience, however, this solid foundation in psychodynamics has made me a better therapist—one that can move dynamically between the practical solutions provided by CBT (or DBT) and the unconscious world that emerges through the artwork. Feedback given to me by seasoned therapists and psychiatrists have emphasized that this ability is unusual in younger therapists, since younger therapists tend to have little or no training in the unconscious, defense mechanisms and personality structures.

I have no experience with any other art therapy program—I’m sure they all teach the “art of art therapy”—but I feel that Drexel gave me a solid academic foundation and prepared me to be a solid clinician.

Now, if only I could get a license to practice counseling in California! Then I’d be set ;)

I Close My Eyes To See

I close my eyes to see
The digital book, I Close My Eyes To See by Dan Rhema and Kevin Wilson, is a both a visual and verbal guide to Dan’s near-death experience due to Dengue fever that he contracted while in Mexico. Dan sustained neurological damage, which affects his memory, sensory processing and sense of reality. However, his illness also left him with a compulsive need to create artwork, something he had not done since he was a child, helping him to make sense of his past and present experiences.

This book captures the imagination—especially for those of us who are interested in a first person perspective of neurological illness, the road to recovery and coping through the use of art. It reminds us that “life finds a way”, a common theme in Dan’s artwork, which brings hope to anyone experiencing a similar injury, family members, friends and those who work with this population.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge Dan’s courageousness. Due to the dual modes of story telling, through words and art, Dan’s struggle is felt deeply and is clearly a genuine self-exploration. One does not come across such authentic pieces of art often, which makes this book a wonderful find.

Pakistan floods: Using art therapy to cope with the trauma – gallery

Check out this photo gallery provided by the Guardian,

“Six months after the devastating floods in Pakistan, children in flood-affected areas are still traumatised and suffer from anxiety, depression and phobias, a new study by Save the Children has revealed. The aid agency has set up 174 safe play areas for children in the worst-hit places, where children have received emotional support through art therapy, group counselling and play activities. We hear from some of them…”