The latest edition of ACMHangouts explores the link between therapy and the arts, delving into the way artistic projects can support physical and emotional well-being. Coordinated and hosted by Elaine Falzon, this July session discusses ways to raise awareness about this holistic approach to therapy. 

Research shows that the human experience and the arts are intrinsically connected, and that engaging and participating in artistic projects can be highly beneficial. This month’s ACMHangouts session explores the connection between art and therapy and the therapeutic value of art, while shedding light on particular projects employed in this area of research.

Co-ordinator and host Elaine Falzon delves into the ways art can help increase self-worth and well-being with artist and curator Pamela Baldacchino and dance artist Patsy Chetcuti. Pamela kicks off the discussion by explaining that her interest in the field arose from her profession. As nurse, she has always been interested in how the arts can be applied to the health environment. This interest led to a project collaboration with Dr Benna Chase, during which art was used as a tool for therapy.

Pamela explains how, during this project, the value of combining arts and therapy became immediately evident. There was a major difference in how patients were able to share their emotions via art, whether it was fear, anxiety, or something else that they were trying to communicate.

Patsy agrees, adding that her interest for this area of research arose from her own personal experience, when she realised that she found it easier to communicate emotions via movement. This link led to her decision to focus on a dissertation that explores the importance of movement in psychosomatic conditions, which in turn kicked off a collaboration with a psychologist who is an expert in mindfulness.

Why isn’t this practice of linking arts with therapy more of a common practice? Both Pamela and Patsy explain that such initiatives are typically project-based, which means that as soon as a specific project comes to an end - or runs out of funding - the work stops there. The conversation moves towards the importance of creating specific roles that merge both areas, such as introducing the idea of a permanent hospital curator. Such roles would make the link between arts and therapy more sustainable long-term, while also helping to raise awareness about the topic.

This edition of ACMHangouts also sees the participation of Dr Tyrone Grima, lecturer and theatre practitioner. He talks about how the relationship between art and therapy needs to be considered from different angles - that of the artists themselves, and that of the audiences. He explains how art has been used numerous times as a vehicle for self-expression, and that it has led to humanity exploring very deep aspects of their own being. The therapeutic value is not something that can be described or gauged in a precise manner, but it is certainly something very powerful that we may not always be able to understand.

The session comes to an end with the impact of interactive arts and the way that the arts can support therapy even through the strong communitarian aspect it automatically creates.