Creative arts therapy can reduce stress and turnover for healthcare professionals

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical professionals admit to feeling tired. Despite the work they love, the days can be long or frustrating or very, very discouraging.

Two years of a global pandemic have only intensified those feelings, adding layers of stress to their work and leading to burnout and turnover.

“It can be very difficult to verbalize these feelings of frustration, grief, or sadness,” says Marc Moss, MDProfessor of pulmonary sciences and critical care at University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of Colorado Resilience Arts Lab (CORAL). “We are confronted with tragedies daily and no one has ever really taught us how to deal with them.”

For some health care providers, finding a voice for their feelings can be through the arts. Recently published researchwhich Moss helped lead, demonstrates that healthcare professionals who participated in a 12-week creative arts therapy pilot study reported reduced levels of stress and anxiety from the beginning to the end of the program.

“One of the most important things we’ve learned is that art becomes a medium for people to express their fears, their traumas, their tragedies, the events they’ve been through,” Moss says.

Moss has teamed up with Katherine Reed, art therapist and Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program manager at Colorado Children’s Hospitaland Michael Henry, Managing Director of Key Writers Workshop in Denver, to design and facilitate clinical trials. “Between our four modalities – art, music, dance/movement, and writing – our therapist facilitators guided and encouraged the sharing and processing of these traumas,” Reed explains.

Another vital lesson from the research “was how important it is to have a sense of community and a sense of safe space with people who understand,” Moss says, and Reed adds, “The arts are builders community materials that help create a sense of vulnerability and authenticity.

“It’s a question of health at work”

The idea for the research grew out of nearly two decades of studying wellness and wellness issues among healthcare professionals, Moss says. As a pulmonary intensive care physician, he not only feels the stress associated with working in healthcare, but he also sees his colleagues dealing with it.

“For a long time, nobody wanted to admit it was true,” Moss says. “Health professionals have difficult tasks, but they tend to internalize it or think there is something wrong with them if they experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. What we now understand is that this is an occupational health issue.

The pandemic has shone a light on what medical professionals are feeling and going through, adds Moss, “and there has started to be an understanding that stress leads to burnout and turnover, and that becomes a crisis for everyone. the world if we don’t have enough people working in health care.”

As Director of CORAL – which is a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that combines visual, musical, written and physical expression therapies and techniques to help providers identify, explore and transform difficulties Psychological – Moss researched how Creative Art Therapy (CAT) can benefit people with stress, anxiety, depression, and other issues that may be associated with working in healthcare.

Prior to the pandemic, the NEA issued Requests for Nominations (RFAs) for research proposals that could demonstrate the value of the arts in society. Among the NEA’s funding requirements, the scholars had to partner with two arts groups. Moss contacted Reed and Henry.

Tap into natural courage

“After Marc contacted me, we met with therapists from Ponzio’s Creative Arts Therapy program,” says Henry. “They are all trained art therapists, and I brought my background in leading workshops, so we started by creating a 12-week protocol, what we saw as the stages of this program and how we can make sure it aligns with measurable science.”

The health professionals of CU Anschutz Medical Campusalong with other Denver-area facilities and organizations, were invited to participate and ranked their preference for the artistic specialty areas the 12-week sessions would address: visual arts, writing, dance, and music.

Nearly 150 participants attended weekly 90-minute in-person group sessions for 12 consecutive weeks between September 2020 and July 2021. Each group was facilitated by a CAT-trained therapist and held on the premises of the Lighthouse Writers workshop.

“The first four weeks were all about creating a safe space,” says Moss. “People got to know each other, and one thing we learned in the focus groups after the study was done was that these traditional hierarchies of healthcare, which I thought were going to be problematic, n didn’t matter. I was concerned that if you had senior doctors in a group with junior nurses, those junior nurses might feel uncomfortable talking about certain things, but that was not the case.

Each session involved different creative arts exercises, and the culmination of the program was the creation of a group project: a writing anthology, a song, a choreographed dance or a visual arts portfolio.

“One thing that was reinforced through this process was that within these small groups, it’s a sacred space, and after a few weeks we could see that people understood that,” Henry says. “It’s a safe space for them to be vulnerable and for them to support others with their vulnerabilities. I don’t think people go into this profession unless they have some fearlessness – they’re not afraid to go into a room where death and pain are present – so I felt they tapped in this natural courage which led them to their profession above all. »

Support for health professionals

Participants completed client satisfaction questionnaires at the beginning, middle, and end of each 12-week session, and results showed that the program was feasible and acceptable to participants, and also demonstrated an overall improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression, burnout, and turnover intention scores.

With the results of this pilot study, Moss and his co-investigators are aiming for a larger grant proposal that will support a multicenter randomized trial focused on CAT.

“I would like to include an aspect of qualitative research where we can do focus groups with hospital administrators to ask, ‘What evidence would you need to incorporate these interventions into someone’s work day? ‘ says Moss. “There are many scary statistics about healthcare workers leaving the field, so how do we approach this in occupational health and safety? How can we support healthcare professionals?


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