Research and Impact of Arts

Our Impact

"The Cancer Patient Support Program’s Healing Harps group presents harp tunes, Celtic music, familiar seasonal melodies and uplifting spiritual music each Wednesday between 12:30 and 1:30 on the second floor of the Comprehensive Cancer Center.  The soothing tones of up to six harps float through the atrium to reach patients, care givers and staff on all four floors of the Outpatient Cancer Center.

Moved by the healing sounds, people frequently thank us for playing. Some look down from the third and fourth floors to watch and listen. Sometimes, listeners offer spontaneous applause. The music makes people feel happy, and the smiles we see are gratifying. Patients tell us that it helps them relax and prepare to talk with their doctors. Staff members who pause to listen during their lunch breaks also find the music relaxing and reassuring. 

Sometimes a familiar tune from the harps will evoke happy memories. A patient, her eyes sparkling with delight, told us how good it made her feel to hear a melody that she learned as a child and had not heard in many years.

Family caregivers have come to us saying, “Thank you so much! That music is very uplifting.” Occasionally, the music stirs emotional release. One gentleman, moved to tears, said, “That’s wonderful! I will bring my wife to listen when she finishes treatment.”

Patients tell us that the harp music makes coming in for treatment more pleasant. One patient shared, “I look forward to hearing it every Wednesday when I come. It is so calming.”

Shared by Ruth Moskop, PhD, Therapeutic Harpist 


The Power of Art

According to recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design, doodling shows signs of helping people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information.

“The Doodle Revolution” by author, Sunni Brown, says doodling is a “thinking tool” and can affect how we process information and solve problems. Some other researchers suspect doodling may help the brain remain active by maintaining a baseline of activity in the cerebral cortex when other stimuli are absent. The idea of this theory is that doodling provides an alternate route to learning by translating ideas or concepts into sketches.

Art Therapy Benefits Cancer Patients

Research shows that creative art therapies, including music, dance/movement, and various forms of art, can reduce anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue in patients with cancer. Art therapies have also been proven to increase patient’s quality of life.

A paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 27 studies involving almost 1,600 cancer patients measuring anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue, and/or quality of life before, during, and after exposure to art therapies.

The benefits of art therapies with cancer patients have been compared to those of yoga and meditation. In comparison to patients who did not participate in creative art therapy for this study, participating patients reported less depression, anxiety, and pain.

The Connect Between Art and Healing

Art therapies may be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop an ability for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and adjust behaviors and thinking patterns.

The primary art therapies introduced are music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing.

Research has found that the idea of creative expression has made a powerful contribution to the healing process which has been embraced by many different cultures. Through extensive research of multiple studies, The American Journal of Public Health found that music therapy has been found to decrease anxiety, calm neural activity in the brain, and restore effective functioning in the immune system.

Visual arts therapy was found to improve well-being, improve medical outcomes, and decrease stress and anxiety. Movement-based creative expression was found to improve physical symptoms, cognitive thinking, and quality of life. Lastly, expressive writing was found to improve anger expression, control pain, and decrease negative mood and fatigue.

Research has proven that there are clear indications that art therapies have significantly positive effects on health and wellbeing. Art therapy compliments the biomedical view by focusing not only on sickness and symptoms but also the holistic nature of the person.

Helping Healing Patients

As the medical community has begun to adapt the approach of art therapy as a form of medicine, there have been improvements in increasing the over-all wellbeing of patients. The room for more improvement led Washington D.C. Smith Center for Healing Arts to start an art advisory service geared toward creating healing environments in health care settings.

According to Huffington Post D.C., the Smith Center is responsible for integrating fine artwork into lobbies and exam rooms of hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices. Based on the idea that art can have an important impact on the patient experience, the goal is to turn uninviting rooms into vibrant spaces for community expression and personal healing.

Paint, Write, Sing

Nearly half the health care institutions in the U.S. have implemented art therapy programs. These art programs predominantly consist of art displays, performances, bedside activities for patients, art carts, and healing gardens. Studies have shown that painting and drawing can help relieve pain in cancer patients, while music therapy can improve memory in dementia patients. Art programs also benefit employees by improving the work environment.

Art can be relaxing and enjoyable for patients while helping to take their mind off of their medical treatments. Art therapy can fulfill the patients’ need to express their feelings about what is going on. Whether it is through painting, writing, or singing, the outlet is there for the patient.

Source: U.S. News & World Report