The Healing Force of Art: Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute

Cleveland Clinic
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A 4-year-old was in the hospital and very anxious and afraid. Every time someone new walked in the room he would start crying and ask, “Shot?” However, when the music therapist walked in the door he smiled and asked, “Guitar”?

We all know that fine art is like good medicine. It comforts and elevates the spirit and affirms life and hope. As one of the world’s great medical centers, the Cleveland Clinic has always included the arts in its healing environment. Long known for its clinical excellence, in recent years the focus of the clinic began to shift to the emotional experience of the patient and family. In 2008, the Arts & Medicine Institute (AMI) was created with the purpose of integrating visual arts, therapeutic arts, performing arts, and research to promote healing and to enhance the lives of patients, visitors, and employees.

To Dr. Iva Fattorini, former chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute, the clinic is a very special place because innovative ideas get support from leadership. “Leadership recognized the value of merging the arts with medicine, because art approaches the patient and family and passes through the hospital in a completely different way,” she says. “It treats human beings as a whole. This deeply benefits the patients from many different angles.” Fattorini adds, “The leadership is surrounded and supported with the great arts organizations and the community. Without community, you can’t do these programs.”

How does using the arts in medicine work? Although the effectiveness is difficult to measure, studies with questionnaires employing scales to measure pain and depression are employed, as well as deep brain stimulation, which measures the activity of neurons. “It’s difficult to connect emotions with basic science,” says Fattorini. “It’s not just about art. It’s almost about demystifying the mixture between emotions and the human mind, because the arts are affecting emotions, and emotions are affecting health. So consequently, we believe that the arts affects health. It’s a simple equation, but when you try to put the language of the arts into the language of medicine it gets a little more complicated, because evidence-based medicine needs a lot of numbers and data. So now, we are basing our research on subjective responses, similar to measuring pain.”

Over 4,500 pieces of contemporary art don the walls and environs of the Cleveland Clinic system. This collection of contemporary art, the largest hospital collection in the world, generates programs in which patient, visitors, and family members can interact with art in many different ways. The Art in the Afternoon Tour employs art ambassadors who host monthly art tours for individuals with memory loss and their care partners. These are specially designed to lift the spirits, engage the mind, and provide an enjoyable social experience.

The Cleveland Museum of Art Distance Learning program provides interactive talks via video teleconferencing as a way for patients and families to explore civilizations, artistic movements and styles in the world-renowned Cleveland Museum of Art collection. A patient TV video loop shows over 120 artworks from the Cleveland Clinic collection paired with music on internal, patient-dedicated television channels.

Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art-making to assist patients in the healing process. Using a variety of visual media for creative self-expression, patients are helped with stress reduction, increased personal insight and strength, increased self-awareness and improved self-esteem. Art therapy can also assist with enhancing cognitive abilities and interpersonal skills.

Pediatric patients are often seen while undergoing treatment for childhood cancers, heart, or bone marrow transplants or gastrointestinal disorders. Art for the Heart and Lungs for Life are two programs for adults who may be dealing with heart and lung transplant and cancer; insight-oriented group therapy helps with drug and alcohol recovery.

The Arts Therapy program is especially effective for patients who are waiting for heart or lung transplants, those Fattorini refers to as “heart waiters.”

“They can be in the hospital for many weeks,” says Fattorini. “Hospitals can be very quiet places in the afternoons. For them it’s extremely important to take their mind off of disease and problems and uncertainty during this waiting period. So they do art therapy. An art therapist comes in and brings tools. They paint and talk about that. They are able to release their thoughts and emotions through this creative process.”

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