Integrative medicine. Alternative therapies. Progressive healthcare. These are all buzzwords emerging in the current lexicon of the health professions, but what do these words actually mean in terms of the future of health care? The arts and humanities may provide insight to answer this question.
For decades, the word “medicine” has triggered images of antibiotics, vaccines, prescriptions, and 10-day-treatment plans, rather than images of music, art, writing, and sculpting. The demand for remedies has always started with a pill that promises to heal faster and better, rather than a pencil or a paintbrush. But why?
Perhaps it is because there are very few data that prove the effectiveness of artistic and humanistic remedies. Certified music therapist, Ken Aigen, would argue that the absence of data is precisely the beauty of using a treatment that can be as personal as it is universal. “Clinical” studies as we know them may not always accurately portray the effectiveness of artistic healing methods because the methods themselves are modified based on the patient’s personal disease state. Additionally, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would argue that there is no possible way to measure one’s progression or healing process just as there is no real way of measuring when one has tapped into a “flow” state, or a new dimension of thinking that is only achieved through one’s own judgment of his or her personal self-immersive experience. Regardless of where the stereotypical image of “medicine” originated, it is important to acknowledge that the arts and humanities do, in fact, have immeasurable potential in their ability not only to help us heal ourselves, but also to help us learn to heal others, which is essentially our ultimate goal as future health care professionals.
As determined pre-health students, we strive to pack our brains with as much information as we can in order to prove ourselves in the professional world. However, from our various workshops it has become evident that the arts and humanities bring something to the table of knowledge that cannot necessarily be “taught” by traditional academic classes such as science and mathematics. Sure, we could be lectured about the importance of the sense of touch in the health care profession, but it was not until we were creating pottery while blindfolded that we actually learned what it was like to rely solely on the ability of our hands. It was not until we were instructed to close our eyes and examine our classmates’ hands that we could understand how critical it was to touch another person, what it was like to invade another’s most personal space, their skin. In the same light, we can all tell ourselves that we are cut out for the emotional difficulties associated with the health care profession, yet it was not until we actually heard and visualized our classmates’ struggles through poetry and Playback theatre that we were truly able to appreciate being the shoulder for that stranger in need. It was not until we actually had the chance to see our classmates on a more intimate level that we could understand the importance of being supportive, receptive and empathetic, qualities that are essential for anyone going into the health care profession.