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Healing through the arts during the COVID -19 pandemic

By The Health News Team | September 28, 2021
Patient Abbas Rad participates in a Arts for Healing session with art therapist Sofia Alvararez

Patient Abbas Rad participates in a Arts for Healing session with art therapist Sofia Alvararez.

In 2007, the Spiritual Care and Education department at Sharp Memorial Hospital launched a small art program for patients with the hope of providing comfort. Arts for Healing grew to be a major initiative at Sharp HealthCare that benefits thousands of patients and their loved ones every year. Comprised of board-certified and licensed arts-based therapists and volunteers, the program is completely funded by donations. Over the years, more than 216,000 patients and their loved ones have experienced the healing power of the arts.

As essential health care workers, Arts for Healing’s music and art therapists continued to provide much-needed emotional support to patients and staff throughout the pandemic. The Arts for Healing therapists developed innovative approaches, such as art and music therapy by video or phone for COVID -positive patients, says Amy Andrews, a music and expressive art therapist who oversees the Arts for Healing program.

Art therapist Sofia Alvarez has provided virtual art therapy sessions for COVID-positive adolescents hospitalized with mental health conditions at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.

“Art therapy by telehealth provides a space for teens to receive support for their mental health despite needing to isolate,” says Alvarez. “It creates an outlet to manage the stress of isolation while also being able to express reasons for admission in a safe and creative manner.”

To focus on employee well-being, the Arts for Healing team visited nursing units and other departments with a support cart equipped with live, soothing music and accessible art-making materials for employees.

“Sharing personally meaningful music in the midst of chaos, uncertainty and isolation can be extremely powerful,” says music therapist Jey Jang. “I have witnessed how music can effectively comfort and empower people throughout the pandemic, boosting their sense of resilience.”

The program has partnered with the San Diego Symphony for many years. In May 2021, the two organizations collaborated to provide an outdoor performance by a symphony cellist at both Sharp Memorial and Sharp Mesa Vista hospitals.

Arts for Healing also organized community art projects for staff during the pandemic. One was called Kaleidoscope of Hope, a collective piece created by hospital staff to offer messages of hope to their colleagues. More than 160 employees contributed individual images and messages, which included phrases such as “Keep going” and “We’ll get through this.”

“For staff during this challenging time, the arts have presented opportunities for spiritual and emotional expression as well as a time to step away, create and gain a fresh perspective,” says Andrews.

Additionally, since August 2020, Arts for Healing has partnered with Project Music Heals Us — a New York-based nonprofit that provides education and healing through live, interactive performances to isolated communities throughout the country. At Sharp Memorial Hospital, this has included weekly individualized, virtual concerts for patients performed by a professional harpist.

“It’s been amazing bringing the concerts to patients because it seems like it really does give them much-needed peace,” says Sharon Lee, an Arts for Healing volunteer.

Since April 2021, Arts for Healing volunteers have returned to visiting patients at their bedside, and volunteer musicians are helping to maintain a calming environment in the hospital by performing live music in the lobby. A training program also is in development for music therapy and other arts-based therapy interns.

“We’re grateful to our supporters who make the therapeutic arts possible at Sharp,” says Andrews. “We are determined to continue offering the arts as a source of inspiration and relief to staff, patients and their loved ones.”

Learn more about the Arts for Healing program at Sharp HealthCare.

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