Talking about mental health with U professionals – The Daily Utah Chronicle


Returning to in-person classes this fall semester begs the question of how to return safely and effectively to public spaces and deal with the stress that comes with it.

As the effects of the pandemic on student well-being – both physical and mental – persist, the pressure to
performing in school combined with the pressure to stay protected from the virus can be a source of enormous anxiety.

To learn more about how to alleviate some of this anxiety, we spoke with artists and art therapy practitioners about the role of art in mental health, the integration of the arts into medicine. and their work in the field.

Product process

Kathryn Wingard, a licensed art therapist with a master’s degree in ceramics from the University of Utah, has helped contextualize the difference between therapeutic art forms – something we all do, and often innately – and the practice of clinical art therapy.

Practicing the art as a hobby or profession maintains the focus on learning new skills or completing a project, while sessions with a clinical art therapist set a goal of healing without breaking down. focus on a final product. “It’s like talk therapy with a different medium,” Wingard said.

The artistic medium, painting, sculpture, music, dance or even forum theater, acts as what Wingard describes as a “safe third party”, providing a meeting space or common ground for the client and the therapist connect. Each session does not end with a pretty picture, literally or figuratively, but is a way to establish a safe and supportive space.

“It’s one of the only disciplines or experiences in the hospital where we don’t go to fix something,” says Saundra Shanti, chaplain at the University of Utah Health.

With undergraduate experience in the arts and a graduate degree in Theology as well as Arts in Medicine from the University of Florida – Shanti’s thesis focused on the integration of art and ritual into spiritual care – she understands how the role of art in clinical settings does not always include an end goal, but it is a way to start the conversation.

“We’re going to connect with people, be with people, and that allows space or openness. What I also like about it is that it allows the patient to have power and control.

One of Shanti’s colleagues and collaborators is Shelley White, director of the Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, where she oversees the wellness department, including creative art therapies with various artist-in-residence and a team music therapists who focus on community and individual interventions with cancer patients.

As a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Nursing with a background in social work, White takes a conversational researcher approach, citing studies focused on the integration of procedural medicine and the arts.

One of the licensed music therapists White supervises is Heather Fellows, who spoke about her training in identifying patient needs. “We are there to meet physical and emotional needs. “

His work is broadly suited to the patient receiving therapy. Allowing patients to gravitate towards what they identify with has benefits in both perceived and recorded relaxation, allows patients to distract themselves from physical pain, and is often accompanied by emotional release. “It’s our job to keep that emotional space for whatever comes up… and to leave something for them to take with them throughout the day,” Fellows said.

Integration of art and medicine

Evidence-based practice and research studies have helped bring more attention to the mental health benefits of integrating the arts and medicine, supporting its practice in healthcare.

“You can merge the medical intervention with the surgery… You can take biological markers and look at the blood or salivary cortisol. [during art-making] and see what kinds of inflammatory biomarker changes are happening, ”says White. The research supporting the mental health benefits of the arts is exciting and promising for the future, although it remains important to differentiate between clinical art therapy and the use of art as a therapeutic practice. .


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