Hinnovic » Arts at the service of health

Arts at the service of health

Arts at the service of healthIt is not new to associate arts and health. Besides shamans and other healers who use dance and music in their rituals, we may also think about psychologists using drawings of their patients to interpret their psychological sate. Today, the arts are more and more used as complementary therapies and are easily integrated in hospitals. Music is used to regain speech, dance is used to control better our movements and even drama may be used to increase public awareness on public health issues. What do we know about therapies using the arts?


Art as a therapy

Art therapy can be defined as a form of psychotherapy using the artistic potential of the patient to help him express his feelings and improve his physical and mental well-being. Art therapy is classified among complementary approaches in medicine and does not replace standard medical treatments.


It is however necessary to distinguish art therapy from therapies using the arts. The first term refers to a psychological approach whereas “therapies using the arts” can also include nonpsychological methods. As the definition is large, it could be possible to include many fields such as poetry, cinema and photography. However, the most commons and most studied fields are the following:


Visual arts

Visual arts are used in a passive or active way. Either the patient is looking at a piece of art; either he creates his own piece using paint, drawing or something else.


Music is used to treat various disorders going from physical limitations to attention deficit disorder or even dysphasia and Alzheimer disease.


Dance is used to improve the quality of life of people with cancer. It can also help elderly to maintain their balance or even improve the mobility of patients with Parkinson’s disease.


Drama is used to help patients with schizophrenia or other mental disorders. It is also a form of educating the population with health topics, such as HIV prevention or mental disorder awareness.


What studies say

Since about twenty years, many researchers are studying the positive effects of different forms of art on patients’ health conditions, but also on medical care. Some of them looked into the cost-savings that can be associated to the use of art in the hospitals. They showed that music therapy can reduce the use of sedatives withArt to relieve patient anxiety children having to go through CT scans (Christenson, 2011). However, most of the studies focus on the effects of art on relieving symptoms attributed to treatments against cancer, on the anxiety of patients, on mental health or even on improving mobility. Art is a form of expression and patients may use it to express their feelings. Using their creativity, they can take some distance on their disease (Beebe, 2010).


Some systematic reviews also exist. One of them was on the use of art in relieving symptoms for adults with cancer. The authors of the review concluded that art helped improve the psychological sate of patients and their quality of life. The studies of the review reported that taking part in art therapy sessions made social interactions more pleasant, improved patients’ mood and promoted their general well-being. There are also some suggestions of a positive effect on their tiredness level (Wood, 2011).


Our dossier on arts and health

In this dossier, the Hinnovic team invites you to discover how arts and health are related. In the interview with Christelle Jacquet, music therapist, you will be able to learn more about the power of music as a way to get in touch with individuals having trouble to express their feelings. We also suggest you an interview with Isabelle Peretz, professor of psychology and co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound research (BRAMS), who talks about the research on the effect of music on the brain. Gammon Earhart, professor of physical therapy, anatomy and neurobiology, presents how people with Parkinson disease can reduce the disease severity by dancing Tango. Darquise Lafrenière, researcher in bioethics, explores how arts, by creating empathy and emotions, give the opportunity to more people to have access to academic research. Finally, Andree Salom, architect and art therapist, invites us to rediscover museums, showing how they can be favourable spaces for better self-knowledge.

Author : Pauline Boinot, M.Sc.



  • Association québécoise de musicothérapie

  • Beebe Anya, Gelfand Erwin, Bender Bruce (2010). A randomized trial to test the effectiveness of art therapy for children with asthma, Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 126(2):263-6

  • Christenson Gary (2011). Why We Need Arts in Medicine, Minnesota Medicine, 94(7): 49-51

  • Wood Michele, Molassiotis Alexander, Payne Sheila (2011). What research evidence is there for the use of art therapy in the management of symptoms in adults with cancer? A systematic review, Psycho-Oncology, 20(2): 135-145


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