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Using the Arts for Beneficial Therapy

Using art to take your mind away from your illness or pain could help you recover faster. VOA's June Soh reports a growing number of medical institutions in the U.S. use the arts as therapy. Carol Pearson narrates.

It's one of few the moments that make a long-term hospital stay bearable for leukemia patient Torry Bond. She's listening to music that flows through the corridor of the hospital. "I enjoy, I enjoy really. It makes a big difference. I feel very invigorated and relaxed at the same time it's quite refreshing," said Torry.

Stephen Chun, who is a pre-medical student at Georgetown University, volunteers to play violin once a week for the patients. It's part of the therapy.

Janet Kahn has breast cancer. She gets chemotherapy every two weeks -- and knitting lessons. "For me, it's been so nice to do knitting. You can keep your mind to be able to use other parts of your brain and not to have to focus on the cancer and awful treatments but to be able to enjoy yourself," she said.

Torry and Janet are patients at the Lombardi Cancer Center at the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Lombardi has been offering its patients various art programs for three and a half years including music, dance, drawing, weaving, beadwork and writing.

Dr. Deepa Subramaniam is an oncologist at Lombardi. "Frequently I have found that engagement in arts and activities have helped patients take their mind off from pain. And that is one of the crucial aspects of pain management, non-pharmacologic approaches, behavioral approaches. And I have definitely used art therapy on these patients," said Dr. Subramaniam.

A growing number of leading medical institutions in the U.S. including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Vanderbilt University hospitals, incorporate the arts into their patient treatment.

Geraldine Herbert is the founding director of the Creative Center in New York, which provides artists-in residence to the area hospitals. "Six years ago, we started artists-in-residence program in the New York city area with one hospital. Since then 16 more hospitals have asked to have artists-in residence," she said.

Advocates of these programs say their benefits include reduced hospital stays, shortened recovery time, fewer medications, lower stress levels, and reduced anxiety in patients.

Denise Simms, who has a rare form of cancer called P-N-E-T, feels there's more than just medical benefits. "I love it. It's my favorite thing to do in the hospital. I don't feel like a patient, which is good. I feel like I am getting in touch with who I am," explained Denise.

That is what Dr. Richard Pestell, director of the Lombardi Cancer Center, likes about the program. "All these things I think are very important but the most important is the quality of life people have when they're involved in a program like this. It's really the quality of life that is so important," said Dr. Pestell.

However some say more research is needed to document benefits. Unlike a new prescription drug, it may not be easy to quantify how much benefit is derived, although the positive effects seem to be felt by not only patients but also hospital staff and caregivers.

Tami Boreman, a nurse at Lombardi, says, "I think it's fabulous. It's kind of a nice calming to a hectic day. It helps you to shift gears and to take a step back, take a deep breath and say, remind yourself why it is you are doing what you are doing, and that is to focus on the patients and the families and not just the tasks at hand."