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ICIMH Roundtable To Explore Research on Creative Art Therapies

NCCIH at the 2018 International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health

April 30, 2018
Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.
Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.

Director, Division of Extramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
View Dr. Edwards' biographical sketch

Many current health challenges such as autism, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s disease have remained largely intractable. Research suggests that a combination of therapeutic approaches will likely be needed to address these complex conditions. Creative art therapies may have a role to play in these multidisciplinary strategies. 

These therapies, also called expressive arts therapies, use art, music, drama, dance/movement, poetry/creative writing, bibliotherapy (which may be described as patients reading published information, such as workbooks or Web-based materials, based on a therapist’s recommendation), play, and/or sand play within the context of psychotherapy, counseling, rehabilitation, or medicine. They are so named because of their roots in the arts and theories of creativity. The term “integrative therapies” may also refer to them when used in combination treatments.

NCCIH is delighted to offer a breakfast roundtable discussion on “Creative Art Therapies (e.g., Music, Dance, Visual Arts) and Health: Early Evidence and Long-Range Promise” at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health (ICIMH) on Thursday, May 10, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The roundtable will focus on recent neuroscience research suggesting sensorimotor, cognitive, and emotional processes are activated while people are engaged in creative art forms. Barriers encountered by researchers in translating basic research findings into therapeutic interventions will also be discussed, and an audience question-and-answer period will conclude the session.

Dr. Emmeline Edwards, Director of the NCCIH Division of Extramural Research (DER) and Dr. Wen Chen, Acting Chief and Program Director in DER’s Basic and Mechanistic Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch, will provide an overview of the field and serve as moderators. Mr. Sunil Iyengar, Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), will discuss new research opportunities through the Sound Health initiative. Sound Health is a partnership between the National Institutes of Health and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the NEA. 

We hope you can join us for this roundtable, which is also a prelude to the symposium Music, the Brain, and Chronic Pain offered later that day, May 10, from 1:45 to 3:00 p.m. 


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“Low hanging fruit” was how Adam Perlman, MD, MPH described the creative arts therapies back in 2011 after he learned of their effectiveness and their ability to be administered in groups, without a lot of equipment.  Both he and Adi Haramati, PhD, representing the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (now the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health), had been dialoguing with a team of creative arts therapists that I had brought to a biennial meeting of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (now the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health) with the initiative and support of John Weeks and Lucy Gonda.   Subsequently, Adi invited us to submit a proposal for a presentation on creative arts therapies at the 2012 International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health.  Here is a link to that panel presentation: The panel began with a review of current research and goals of ongoing research by moderator, Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, followed by discipline-specific research focused on treatment of trauma presented by distinguished clinician-scholars from four creative arts therapy disciplines: art therapy (Marcia Rosal, PhD, ATR-BC), dance/movement therapy (Sherry Goodill PhD, BC-DMT), drama therapy (Stephen Snow, PhD, RDT-BCT), and music therapy (Bryan Hunter, PhD, MT-BC).  The creative arts therapies have the potential for broad implementation in health care, educational, recreational, and other settings.  They can achieve therapeutic goals in social, emotional, cognitive, and physical domains.  They are uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions and not just reducing negative ones.  They possess an accessible and unparalleled power to build social connection, which is key in healing intractable and ubiquitous conditions, such as trauma, social isolation, and intolerance.  Time and again, we have observed in the community that, within the space of an hour, a roomful of strangers can become each other’s closest confidantes.   Moreover, the creative arts therapies offer a nonverbal means of communication, which is important when trauma, disability, or cultural factors interfere with verbal expression.  Rigorous studies of the arts used in therapeutic contexts consistently show biological evidence of stress reduction.  We know from the field of psychoneuroimmunology that stress reduction and social support improves health and resistance to disease.  Our projected national disease burden includes emotionally and behaviorally related conditions; therefore, the creative arts therapies will play an increasingly significant role in health care.   Ping Ho, MA, MPH Founder & Director, UCLArts & Healing

As a dance/movement therapist working in the field for 40 years, I am delighted to hear that you are bringing attention to the creative arts therapies for integrative health. Neuroscience is just beginning to show what those of us in the field have always known - that the arts contribute to a sense of wholeness and health. They change our brains and therefore our biologies.

This page last modified June 13, 2018