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Medical Social Emotional Arts Program

Medical Social Emotional Arts (MEDSEA) Program

The Medical Social Emotional Arts (MEDSEA) Program supports social-emotional wellbeing in health care, residential and other settings, for patients and care providers.  The practical activities in the toolkit integrate the innate social emotional benefits of art, movement, music, and writing with mental health practices.  They are intended to help:

  • create rapport and connection
  • evoke positive emotions and bolster resilience
  • empower patients in managing stress, pain and the environment
  • facilitate verbal and nonverbal communication
  • strengthen the patient’s sense of self as a creative being rather than one who is ill
  • manage grief and loss 

The MEDSEA toolkit will support the new Quadruple Aim of health systems: to improve population health, to enhance the patient experience of care, to reduce per capita health care spending, and to improve the work life of health care providers.

In 2016, we pilot-trained two groups of first-year medical students at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, as well as UCLA students who have been volunteering with homeless veterans and teens through the student-run UCLA Creative Minds Project, of which UCLArts and Healing is a collaborator.  The curriculum was designed by a team of ten leading creative arts therapists (board certified or registered mental health professionals with dual training in the arts), and it represents a condensed version of the successful UCLArts and Healing Social Emotional Arts Certificate Program.

In addition, the curriculum and training were informed by the input of an array of UCLA medical departments including Alzheimer’s/dementia, child psychiatry, Child Life, neuro-oncology, integrative oncology, neonatal intensive care, nursing education, spiritual care, and the volunteer program – all of which saw the direct relevance of this project to their staff and patients.

Some of the medical students have been delivering activities from the MedSEA program to neuro-oncology inpatients through the UCLA Brain Tumor Center, as well as stroke and traumatic brain injury patients, at the request of the other nursing staff on the 6-North floor that care for those patients.

Feedback from the patients and/or family members and friends, as well as from the medical students, has been excellent.

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We believe that therapeutic approaches involving the creative arts offer a unique solution for achieving the Quadruple Aim of health systems, which includes the satisfaction of patients and health care providers.  Creative expression is a window to the soul that enables supportive patient and family engagement, without the expense or stigma of therapy.  It allows issues to be brought up in a way that feels organic and safe.  Moreover, the arts can uniquely enhance positive emotions and not just reduce negative ones.  Rigorous studies of the arts used in healing contexts show reductions in sedative/analgesic use and pain appraisal, and increases in pain tolerance, without the side effects of pharmacologic approaches.

The project is eminently scalable and sustainable.  It is intentionally designed to be easy to facilitate and practical (e.g., designed in modules to accommodate less or more time with patients and designed on the assumption of little or no supplies being available).  The curriculum materials are laid out in a user friendly, scripted format for easy delivery.  All activities include instructions for adaptation to different age groups, disabilities, and families.  Some of the activities can be left with patients to do on their own.  We believe that the curriculum will also be useful in other settings (e.g., nursing homes, schools, other community-based organizations) and with other populations (e.g., veterans, people in substance abuse rehab centers, domestic violence shelters).

We know from the field of psychoneuroimmunology that mind is inextricably connected to the body and that subjective human experience affects health and resistance to disease.  We know that stress reduces the body’s capacity to heal and that social support increases it.  We also know that there is an increasing societal burden from chronic diseases rooted in emotions and behavior.  We know that treatment outcomes are influenced by patient satisfaction, which affects compliance and retention.  We know that health care could use a humanizing touch because of cost containment that results in more medical testing and less time with patients.  Survey research has also found that one in four or five individuals has experienced some form of trauma (sexual, emotional, physical) in their lifetime and that there are very few interventions available to address this.  Trauma is associated with poor quality of life and depression – especially in women. 

At the same time, care providers experience intense burnout, which reduces quality of care for patients as well as professional longevity; for example, 34% of hospital nurses and 37% of nursing home nurses report burnout.  The activities in the MEDSEA toolkit can benefit care providers directly by giving them a way to express grief and loss, for example, and indirectly by enabling them to offer something positive to engage, support and empower the patient.  Solutions to staff burnout tend to focus on infrastructure changes to enhance efficiency and do not tend to address underlying psychosocial or spiritual needs of patients and care providers.

These are some of the reasons that programs enhancing social-emotional wellbeing are important to offer in health care and other settings.  The MEDSEA toolkit expands these possibilities greatly.




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