Art and Drugs: An Old Story With A Twist
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 11, 2014
“Loyola Marymount University’s Marital and Family Therapy Department offers students an innovative program that leads to a Master of Arts in Marital and Family Therapy with specialized training in Clinical Art Therapy.
Students are trained to integrate their visual art backgrounds with psychotherapeutic skills as they work with a variety of clients, including children, adolescents, adults and families. The training fully prepares students to become practicing marital and family therapists committed to utilizing art processes in their work as psychotherapists.”
“Do psychotropics change the art?” I ask my students as I teach these LMU students about psychopharmacology. “What about the clock test for dementia?” I ask, wondering if they can decipher how one’s brain deteriorates as evidenced by the deterioration in their clock drawing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10861923 . It is my privilege to ask these questions of eager students, artists, who want to coach artistic output in their patients in order to ameliorate the suffering they see in kids, adolescents and adults, many of whom are underprivileged and have little access to mental health interventions. The students, endlessly interesting themselves, seek the inner world of their patients through an artistic expression, allowing a springboard to deeper exploration and mental healing. As a psychoanalyst I would say that these therapists are bypassing the conscious, heading towards unconscious thought processes, through artistic expression.
Some of these patients are on medication, or need to be on medication, so these students need to understand who to refer for psychotropic medication, and they need to know how to communicate with the prescribing physician, about the impact of the medication, on the art, on the therapy, and on the mental apparatus of the patient. That is where I enter into the curriculum. It is my job to help them understand the armamentarium of drugs that we use to help people with their mental distress. Moreover, it is my job to give them confidence to call that doctor and to weigh in adamantly about their impressions of the treatment. Empowering my students to communicate with physicians is a distinct challenge, because medical care, as it is in this country, is a hierarchy, and as such, these student therapists often worry about being humiliated. “You know this patient better than anyone,” I say, knowing the hours and hours they spend with their clients, working on their art, talking to them about themselves, their families, their traumatic experiences, and their hopes for the future. “I am a psychiatrist, and I am busy, and I may be short with you, if you call me, but it is helpful if you, in a nice way, can get to the point quickly and assertively.” I say, trying to break down this invisible wall between the MD and the therapist. “Drugs can change the art, and art can change how the drugs are perceived. You are on those front lines. Don’t forget that.” I say, thrilled to be a part of their education.