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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Healing and the Arts: A Powerful Metaphor for Teaching about Healing and for Teaching Medical Humanities

  • Author(s): Sirridge, Marjorie S.;
  • Martin, Jennifer
  • et al.

For several years an interdisciplinary course called “Healing and the Arts” has been offered to undergraduates and medical students in a BA/MD program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Its stated purpose is to give students a theoretical and practical understanding of how the arts can be a healing force in people's lives. Healing is addressed in a broad sense that takes into account the larger factors of health and illness, such as the roles and responsibilities of patients, the cultural perspectives of sickness and health, and the influence of religious or moral beliefs and practices. The three units of the course are: 1) Art and Healing of Self and Others; 2) Art, Healing and Society; and 3) Art, Healing and Spirituality. Each unit includes appropriate literature assignments and art experiences. Oliver Sacks' book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, provides numerous examples of healing through music, art, spirituality and the helpful understanding of care givers. Music such as requiems, the blues and the compositions of Andrew Lloyd Weber provide examples of healing in a different sense. Plays, read or attended, offer additional dynamic experiences. Artists such as Frida Kahlo provide examples of the relation of illness and healing to the creation of visual art. The many art related responses to the 9/11 tragedy show how society sought its own healing. Students’ responses to the selections are evaluated through written papers and examinations as well as class discussions. The faculty members believe that, by introducing students to the positive aspects of the arts and how they have universally contributed to the healing of individuals, societies and cultures, they are teaching them the important balance between medical knowledge and the arts in their own lives.

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