Unlocking The Brain: Neuro Art Therapy Program Among First In Nation.

IU Health’s program works with people who have neurological challenges — Parkinson’s disease, ALS, traumatic brain injury and more. When they create art, it becomes magical, revealing thoughts they may not even know they had.

Daniel Moore was given a task: Paint a picture to show how he feels a lot of the time.

No words. Just art. Moore went to work with his watercolors.

The result was a series of different shades of green horizontal lines that filled up the entire page — like a wall that he couldn’t break through.

“Being stuck, stuck, stuck and more stuck,” says Moore, 25, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 13. “Because, there are days when I don’t have any work or anything going on and I’m just home. It feels just stuck.” 

That painting unlocked feelings in Moore, feelings elicited by his IU Health art therapist, Juliet King.

It’s all part of a program launched at IU Health that is one of the first — and one of the few — in the nation: Art therapy designed specifically for neuro patients.

We sat with Moore and King during a session to learn more about this groundbreaking program.

The patients

The program works with people who have neurological challenges — Parkinson’s disease, ALS, traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s disease, dementia and more.

“We provide psychological and emotional support for people coping with their illnesses,” says King. “We also help people understand what is happening to them as they are going through changes.”

The Medium

On this day, Moore is working with clay instead of watercolors.

“It makes me feel good. I know I’m pushing on something here,” says Moore, who also volunteers at IU Health. “I can start building on something. I like to build.”  

Clay is going to elicit a different response, cognitively and emotionally, than watercolors will, says King. Each patient has different needs and therapists craft each session for that need, including which medium to use.

Setting goals

“Art therapy affords a space and a place to put images to how we feel,” King says. “We work with a person to establish goals, depending on what they’re struggling with.”

Serious stuff

“Although we get to have fun, sometimes therapy is not always an easy or a pleasant experience,” King says. “Therapy is hard and it takes a lot of courage to be able to engage in the process. There is something very different between making artwork by yourself and in the context of making it for therapy.”

Changes in patients

“I’ve seen people become less depressed and less anxious and have better abilities to cope with what it is they are dealing with,” King says. “I see people become more free in their expression. Often times, creating art, it becomes kind of magical and surprising. You learn things about yourself.”

Not arts and crafts

Some people think of art therapy as playtime. But it’s not. Therapists have to complete a 60-credit master’s program and 1,000 hours of clinical internship.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.