Baylor’s Arts in Medicine Program Adds Spiritual Dimension
Baylor University Medical Center’s Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center is known for its holistic approach to medicine. The Dallas facility has earned a reputation for its Integrative Medicine program, which offers mind, body and spirit therapies to complement traditional treatments. In July, Baylor further demonstrated its commitment to complementary therapies by hiring Benny Barrett to oversee Baylor’s Arts in Medicine Program.
Since 2011, Barrett has coordinated music performances for the hospital and outpatient centers, logging 5,000 hours as a volunteer. Over the years, he has brought in bands, choirs, ballet performers and even an Elvis impersonator to brighten up Sammons Center lobbies and occasionally, the hospital’s halls. “I was only going to do it six months,” says Barrett with a chuckle. “Then I saw the effect it had on people.”
Now Barrett not only brings in musicians every weekday to perform during the lunch hours, he oversees a staff dedicated to helping patients and their loved ones cope with illness. Barrett, a former Dallas police officer and Marine, said he’s thrilled to be able to bring joy to cancer patients and their families coming and going from appointments at the Sammons Center. “This building can get really quiet and sterile,” he says. “We want it to be an environment of happiness and encouragement.”
He has seen the positive effect it can have on people such as a woman whose husband had just received a grim prognosis that thanked him for the classical guitarist she had just heard. She said she was reminded of the beauty in life and her faith that they “were in God’s hands.” Or, the nurse that pulled up a chair to listen to a musician performing in the surgery waiting room who said, “I needed this today.”
However, one of his best memories is of seeing a downtrodden woman that had just received chemo treatment perk up after hearing the strains of Jailhouse Rock. She even got up and danced. “It gives people that spirit of, ‘I'm going face it; I'm going to do this,’” he says. While Sammons Center performances are geared mainly to outpatients, the Arts in Medicine program also enlists three music practitioners: a harpist, a flutist and a guitar player, to play at the bedside of oncology and palliative care inpatients. They play music in the patient’s room on request to help them sleep or get through treatment. “They are trained to know the type of music to play to promote healing,” says Barrett.
October 1: More than Words: Expressive Journaling, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
October 7: Keep Calm and Color On! 10 to 11:30 a.m.
October 8: Open Studio, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
October 12: Body/Mind/Art, 1 to 3 p.m.
October 15: Keep Calm and Color On!, 10 to 11 am a.m.
October 22: Open Studio, 10 to 11:30 am
October 26: Keep Calm & Color On!, 2 to 3 p.m.
In addition, Melissa Garner was hired in July as an art therapist. She conducts classes daily at the center, using art to tap into people’s inner strength. Each class offers different levels of depth, depending on the participant’s interest. In a lighthearted course called Keep Calm and Color On, Garner’s class members use colored pencils and markers to fill in adult coloring books. In a more reflective class, called Mind, Body, Art, she invites participants to meditate on their bodies, and then illustrate what they’ve experienced using everything from oil pastels to acrylic paint. “That is a pretty radical act, because we live in a world that is, ‘go, go, go,’ says Garner, who is also a licensed professional counselor. “We’re stopping and pausing and listening to what the wisdom of the body is telling us. Then we have a discussion. Usually, that is the best part.”
Garner also offers a class on guided imagery to visualize and promote healing energy. Meanwhile, Open Studio is a course where participants can come and work with the art materials on their own out in a public entryway. The center is also planning to hire an art therapist to work with inpatients, as well. Garner is convinced that art therapy aids the healing process. “You’re putting people in a really good place,” she says. “I think it helps people heal. It helps them tap into their soul and connect to the most wise part of themselves.”
Barrett agrees, saying, “It’s a unique and special program that shows the power that art can play when you put it into the equation for healing.”
Classes are held in Suite 200 at the Cvetko Center at the Sammons Cancer Center, Baylor Scott and White Hospital, located at 3410 Worth St., in Dallas. Registration is required at 214-820-2608. For more information, visit BaylorHeath.com/cancersupport.