Art and medicine, at first glance, seem to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. While one deals primarily in emotion and subjectivity, the other is grounded in data and facts.
When the two come together, though, it can prove to be a powerful concoction to soothe the ailing.
Art therapy is a patient-centric treatment approach that involves the use of artistic mediums as an outlet of expression. This practice, according to art therapist Ada Dickinson, is mainly used to help people of all ages cope with emotional or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma or grief.
“We get people involved in art with the very clear understanding that sometimes words don’t express what you feel, or it’s hard to say what you feel,” Dickinson said. “We use the art to help identify that, especially with children who are too young to really have words to use to express in-depth feelings.”
Sessions are often one-on-one, but have become more commonly used in group and family therapy settings. Dickinson shared that she currently works at a school to work with students who could benefit from her methods.
Although still commonly used as a therapy for children, the benefits of art therapy can reach adults as well.
“The artwork helps bring about expression of feelings and promotes feelings and promotes problem-solving because it lets the light in on your issues or problems,” Dickinson said. “Hopefully, they will feel better. Hopefully there’s an improvement on their outlook on life and problem-solving and their general enjoyment in life.”
Parkview Health has put its own spin on art therapy by creating a Healing Arts program available at a handful of facilities in the Allen County area including the Parkview Regional Medical Center.
“The healing art program was part of the design, if you will, of PRMC,” Paula Bostwick, nursing director of Parkview Health, said. “It was constructed to create that healing atmosphere, so there was a lot of artwork, the rooms were open with nice big windows. In the design (of the building) itself there was a curve.”
Unlike the therapy sessions that licensed art therapists like Dickinson facilitate, Parkview’s program involves volunteers from the Fort Wayne Dance Collective that simply visit patients and offer a respite from doctors and medicines.
“It’s about meeting the patients where they’re at,” Bostwick said. “All of the artists are patient-centric, so if they are musically inclined and they go in to see patients that would rather have visual art, the artist will individualize what they do and provide artwork.”
Healing arts has made its way to most every department in the hospital, Bostwick pointed out, bringing comfort to neonates, cancer patients and folks recovering from various surgeries and procedures. Even the hospital staff have enjoyed the benefits of the healing arts.
“It’s really amazing the patients that have embraced this,” Bostwick said. “Our patients will routinely share with us that it decreases their anxiety, decreases their pain level and improves their well-being.”
In Dickinson’s 20 years as an art therapist, she has seen more and more skeptics become believers in the practice, but she pointed out that it is still a niche market in Fort Wayne.
“I don’t think it’s the go-to modality because it’s not well-known,” Dickinson said. “But as I’ve been working in Fort Wayne, more and more people are starting to refer people that might benefit from me.”
With awareness, comes increased access. Dickinson currently supervises two other art therapists on their way to getting licensed by the state and she added that there were a couple of people in the area who had opened up their own private practices. Once art therapists are licensed, their services can be billed to health insurance companies, most of which, Dickinson advised, do list art therapy as a qualifying treatment option for coverage.
Healing arts programs like the one at Parkview, though, are still slow to grow, Bostwick pointed out who hopes to see this program at least expand into more of the network’s community hospitals.
Sifting through pain and grief can be an ugly business, bringing up tangled thoughts and messy feelings, but the beauty is in the healing.
“We never emphasize art therapy as about being beautiful,” Dickinson said. “It’s always about finding more about yourself and not about hanging it up on the wall or sewing it. And hopefully, it will bring about a lot of satisfaction in life and when things are difficult, it’s a coping skill they can use to get through.”