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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Helping Retirees

Q. My friend and I have decided to serve our community and offer painting classes at retirement centers. We have been getting many questions asking how these classes might be beneficial psychologically for the patients. Any comments helping us explain how these classes might affect people would be much appreciated.

A. Sounds like a wonderful service to me! But, without knowing more about how you will be conducting these classes, or your professional background, it's hard to provide you with solid data on psychological benefits to the students. There are data on the use of art therapy in various populations. For example, one study by Ferszt et al (Holistic Nursing Practice, Oct. 1998, pp. 68-75) examined the use of art therapy in an adult bereavement group. The authors found that "...the art therapy activities provided the group members with occasions to express a full range of feelings, and opportunities...to reflect on their individual views of themselves."

Other research suggests that art and music therapy (in conjunction with traditional medical treatment) can aid in pain reduction in hospice patients (Trauger-Querry and Haghighi, 1999). Another study in St. Christopher's Hospice Day Center (London) looked at the effects of creative arts work in terminally ill patients ( CE Kennett, Palliative Medicine 2000 14:419-25). The author found that self-esteem, autonomy, social integration, and hope were enhanced by the opportunity of residents to exhibit their creative arts work.

Based on the above, I would anticipate that your work could lead to benefits for at least some of your students. For more information, you may want to contact the American Art Therapy Association at 888-290-0878 (www.arttherapy.org). This organization provides a great deal of information, helpful links, interviews, etc. with those who have used art therapy in a variety of settings. Good luck with your class!

July 2001

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