Baylor Arts in Medicine Provides Holistic Healing
Mention the word “hospital” and people typically think of sterile waiting rooms, medication and uncomfortable tests and procedures. But at Baylor University Medical Center, in Dallas, patients are greeted with a different kind of treatment. Their Arts in Medicine program, which began in 2015, makes art and music an integral, interactive and essential part of the environment. From volunteers playing harp or cello in the lobby to mandalas hanging on the walls begging to be colored, patients are surrounded by creativity, color and inspiration.
Benny Barrett is the coordinator of the Arts in Medicine program, and says the benefits for patients, family members, caregivers and staff are myriad. “Hospitals can be a place where people learn life-altering information. The lobbies are filled with people who have just learned they have a terminal cancer or their pregnancy is at risk. Having music there helps provide comfort, support, nurturing and healing. It gives people the vigor to keep fighting and move through,” says Barrett.
Barrett, a former police officer who also performed for Medieval Times, originally started at Baylor as a volunteer. “My wife is a nurse, and she said I had to help out with a Christmas program there,” he chuckles. That led to Barrett bringing in professional musicians to perform in the hospitals and outpatient centers, and after logging in more than 5,000 volunteer hours with Baylor, he was hired full-time to expand the program, which is currently funded by donors.
“When we started two years ago, we were getting 120 referrals a month for services. Now we have over 2,000 requests a month. We have one full-time and two part-time music practitioners and two full-time music therapists, as well as two art therapists and dozens of volunteers,” says Barrett. The art therapists and volunteers work with patients one-on-one, lead group sessions, have drop-in open studios and even run workshops for the staff to help with stress and burnout. They will read books or newspapers out loud to patients that can’t focus and customize each interaction to meet the needs of the specific individual.
Although the program originally began at the Baylor Scott & White Charles A Sammons Cancer Center, a seven-story building dedicated to oncology, it has expanded to the whole hospital. “We see patients in neurology, orthopedics, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, gastroenterology and organ transplant. We’ve had musicians sit with patients through a four-hour bone marrow transplant. It helps eliminate nausea, decrease pain and provides companionship, comfort and connection,” says Barrett.
Patients typically respond with fewer medications, lower pain levels, quicker recovery times, less depression and anxiety, shorter stays and a general improvement in their conditions overall. “I see more hospitals integrating arts and music into their programs, as it is both a cost-effective and forward-thinking way to treat the whole person, not just the diagnosis or symptoms,” says Barrett.
The next element Barrett is adding is an oral history program where patients can document and record memories and messages to pass on to their families and loved ones. “We’ve already had a number of patients make archives for the next generation. It’s like passing on a legacy, and it’s a privilege to be a part of that,” says Barrett.