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Creative Approaches to Wellness and Healing

Ping Ho, MA, MPH, is the Founder and Director of UCLArts and Healing, an organization which facilitates the use of arts-based tools for mind-body healing in the community as a vehicle for empowerment and transformation. This speaker lectured for the UCLA summer course MED 180, "Introduction to Integrative East-West Medicine for Health and Wellness," which took place from June 23-August 1, 2014.

Ping Ho, MA, MPH, Founding Director of UCLArts and Healing states, “Creative expression is an extension of ourselves.” As such, art-based approaches for therapeutic purposes are proving to offer benefits in fostering wellness and self-healing. Ho states that there are innate benefits of using arts in the clinical setting, including not just the reduction in negative emotions, but in the potential enhancement of positive emotions, which is important for building resistance. Other appealing benefits of such treatments include avoiding the difficulty that may come with trying to express oneself with words, and the opportunity to have shared experience, the organic and safe nature of which can be especially helpful for getting over traumatic experiences. Overall, the use of creative approaches instead of traditional psychosocial therapy minimizes financial difficulties, stigma, and side effects for patients.

Different ways to integrate the arts include through poetry and writing, as well as music and sound. The key in all these therapies is for the moderator to incite empathy in patients by invoking prosocial behavior in a group setting and acknowledging patients’ experiences through their writing and/or music. The different mediums available with creative art therapy offer varying benefits. The conciseness of poetry, for example, helps patients contain their emotions, preventing them from feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, studies suggest that the act of writing improves psychological health, immune function, reported health, and general functioning.

Music stimulates the brain’s reward area, making its integration into therapy self-acknowledging and positive. According to Ho, music ideally should be matched to one’s mood, and one can achieve an even greater impact by expressing him or herself through singing rather than solely listening to music. An example of music therapy is Judith Pinkerton’s “Sound of Healing” idea – U.S.E. (unsettling, soothing, energizing) – which incorporates these types of music based on a person’s situation and mood. Ho further illustrates with songs from each category, stating that as music reaches the amygdala of the brain, which is associated with memory, the emotions elicited by music enhance this memory. Rhythm – an even, steady vibration – is further stress-reducing, as MRI studies indicate that people synchronize and connect to each other through rhythm. Thus, creative arts allow therapists to formulate individualized treatment plans and may prove to be a more approachable therapy to address chronic conditions, disabilities, and overall wellness.


Click here to read more about the MED 180 course.


Lecture summary generated by Harini Kompella, Volunteer Writer, UCLA

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