Art can heal: It’s the idea that inspired one doctor from Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton to begin to consider alternative methods of treatment for her patients on the Intensive Care Unit; specifically art therapy. In case you’re unfamiliar, art therapy is a mental health profession in which a client, facilitated by the art therapist, uses art materials, the creative process and often the resulting artwork to improve overall personal well-being.
In an effort to bring art therapy to the ICU, Dr. Loiacono reached out to Stephanie Wise, Director of the Art Therapy Program at Marywood. In my position as graduate assistant, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with Stephanie and Dr. Loiacono to develop a program to be implemented as my final internship before graduating with a Master’s in Art Therapy from Marywood.
The program that we created for the ICU, referred to as the “Creative Arts Care Program,” incorporates direct art therapy services to patients and their families, workshops for staff, and research regarding overall patient experience. In a medical setting, especially one as ‘intense’ as the ICU, art therapy can provide a sense of normalization and help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. It allows patients, families and staff to explore and communicate their thoughts and emotions in a safe, nonverbal way.
I never could have imagined that my educational and professional journey would eventually lead me to a medical hospital (germs aren’t really my thing). To backtrack a bit, several years ago after earning a Bachelor’s in Art Education, teaching art at the elementary level, and ultimately receiving a Master’s in Special Education, I became familiar with art therapy as an intervention for children with Autism. I was intrigued by the idea of combining visual art and mental health treatment, so I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a second Master’s Degree in Art Therapy at Marywood.
Upon entering graduate school, my heart was set on working with children. Coming from an elementary education background, that’s all I really knew. To say that it was slightly terrifying to step foot onto an inpatient psychiatric unit during my first internship after spending several years teaching Kindergarten students how to use scissors is a bit of an understatement. But I loved it, and continued to recognize the value of art therapy in a variety of settings through my practicum experiences.
In essentially developing my own art therapy program at Geisinger, I was able to combine my skills as an artist and educator with my passion for helping others. As an intern on the ICU, I had the opportunity to help patients, families, and staff to recognize the value of art therapy within a medical setting. Upon the completion of my internship, I was invited to continue to provide art therapy services as a part of the medical team following my graduation.
If there’s any advice that I might offer to students at Marywood, it would be to take each opportunity that’s given to you and really run with it: step outside of your comfort zone, think outside the box, and try your best to see the value of your internship and practicum experiences. The relationships that you build and the experience that you gain may ultimately land you the job of your dreams.
From practicum to profession, I continue to grow, learn, and witness every day how art can heal.