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The Art of Healing

Monday, August 26, 2013
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What is art therapy?

“I work with patients on psychological and emotional issues relating to their physical health,” explains Marya Camilleri, MA, the art therapy community partnership coordinator for MossRehab. “I help people to process and talk about the difficult emotions associated with the traumatic event that caused them to be in the hospital. These can include a stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury, an amputation or other health crisis.”

Art therapy also supports motor skills, concentration, focus and memory, Camilleri says. She works with patients of all ages on an in-patient and out-patient basis in group settings or as individuals. Sessions range from ½ hour to 2 hours.

What’s an example of how art therapy can be incorporated into patient care?

Camilleri worked with a patient who had a stroke that affected the right side of his body. “Many patients neglect the side that the stroke has damaged and we work through some of that with art,” Camilleri explains. “This patient was painting only on the right side of the page. I drew his attention to the left side by putting art materials on his left so he had to reach for them. I also asked him to draw a picture of his wife and placed her on his left. These are small but concrete ways we have of exercising the disabled part of the brain.”

Do you evaluate, on a clinical level, what people draw or paint?

“Sometimes, I set up a few objects and ask patients to draw them and use their imagination to draw what else might be in the room,” Camilleri says. “That shows me how well they are able to represent the things they see and how well they can use their creative imaginations. Art therapy also helps with the act of using their hands while creating something. That means the imagination is working on one side of the brain while the other side of the brain is using words to explain it. The right side is stimulated through images and creativity, while the left side is stimulated through logical procedures in the art process, and verbal discussion about the artwork.”

The Pennsylvania Therapeutic Recreation Society recently honored MossRehab’s Art Therapy department with the Outstanding Special Event Award for a program done in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What is that program?

Kerry Ross O'Connor, senior communications manager at Einstein, created the series with Street Thoma, PMA’s manager of accessible programs. Once a month, a group of Moss Rehab patients take a guided tour of the Art Museum that is adapted to accommodate people with wheelchairs, vision problems and other disabilities. Over the following weeks, patients meet at MossRehab to create artwork inspired by what they saw on the tour. The Art Museum’s “Great And Mighty Things” Outsider Art exhibit was so popular among the patients that the group saw it twice. What was so inspiring? “They were artists who were, for the most part, self-taught,” Camilleri says. “Many of the artists had been through a crisis or dramatic event, so there was a lot of conversation in our group about how the artists overcame those things. Our patients could definitely relate to that.”

Work by MossRehab’s art therapy patients is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Sept. 22 as part of the Bridges exhibit. Admission is free.

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