An Art Therapy In-Service Program Model for Medical Students and Residents

By Miller, Rebecca Beers | Journal of Allied Health, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

An Art Therapy In-Service Program Model for Medical Students and Residents


Miller, Rebecca Beers, Journal of Allied Health


This paper examines the author's experience implementing an art therapy in-service program into the training of medical students and residents in an urban hospital teaching facility. Emphasis is placed on specific aspects of planning and implementation, including formal and informal assessment, as well as methods of engagingmedical students in art therapy experientials relevant to their experience as helping professionals. Benefits and challenges encountered throughout the process are also discussed. This paper is based on a presentation given at the 36th annual American Art Therapy Association conference. J Allied Health 2010; 39:e49 - e54.

WITHIN DAYS OF BEGINNING an art therapy practicum within the Pediatrics Department of an acute care hospital and teaching facility in an under-served area of New York City, the question was repeatedly asked by medical students, residents and licensed practitioners alike, "What is art therapy and how is it used in a medical setting?" This particular hospital, though one of the oldest in the nation, had no previous history of creative arts programming prior to my appointment as the first intern in art therapy. Because art therapy often falls within the umbrella of child life programming in pediatric hospital settings, the term 'child life' was repeatedly used interchangeably by hospital staff in reference to my role despite persistent attempts on my part to clarify myself as the 'art therapy intern.' Though frustrating initially, the role confusion brought up several important points. First, it forced me to think seriously about the scope of services I might provide given the traditional domain of 'child life' in pediatric hospital settings, while also taking into account what I could not provide given my lack of training at that time in this allied, but distinct, field. This propelled me to seek regular off-site consultation and supervision by a dually trained Art Therapist and Certified Child Life Specialist. Thismentorship guided and supported the implementation of a program consistent with a creative arts child life model (Rode, 1995). Second, I became eager to collaborate with on-site hospital staff as a means of increasing awareness of the purpose and potential of art therapy. Hence, when the Chair of Pediatrics half-heartedly suggested his medical students and residents partake in art therapy given their own high levels of stress, I saw an opportunity for collaboration wherein several needs might be met simultaneously.

LITERATURE REVIEW

A recent survey (Americans for the Arts, 2005) found that more than 2, 500 hospitals in the United States, or roughly 77% of all hospitals, incorporate arts into their programming. Motivation for investment in arts programming was attributed to several broad areas. The vast majority (96%) indicated that art was incorporated for the purpose of patient care and 79% said that art was important in creating a healing environment. Less than half (41%) surveyed described using art to benefit hospital staff and volunteers.

At the same time, a survey of newspaper headlines and medical journals increasingly attest to a small, but growing movement, that seeks to include the arts into the training programs of doctors and nurses, particularly in Great Britain, Australia and the United States (Bolton, 2003;Martin, 1999; Mishori, 2004; Newson, 2007; Robinson, 2007; Willson, 2006).

A search of the literature found very little that focused on in-service collaborations between art therapy and other allied professions within the hospital setting. One article located focused on the use of art in staff and patient education (Misener, 1979). Authored by a nurse without formal art therapy training, the article described the use of art and guided imagery in nurse trainings as a means to explore and examine feelings, emotions and biases in working withmedically ill populations. In applying to staff education what Misener described as "art therapy techniques," the author aimed to increase empathy for patients, promote holistic nursing practices, and foster increased self-care of nursing staff.

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