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​​Occupational Therapy Arts
As part of the Occupational Therapy Arts Group at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst Centre, participants visit the Art Gallery of Ontario. They are then asked to paint in the style of something that inspired them on their visit. (Photo: Carrie Mizzoni)​

Occupational therapy had its foundation as a profession more than 100 years ago and was rooted in engaging in meaningful occupations for therapeutic purposes – including a wide variety of crafts, with the opportunity for creative and artistic expression.

Today, occupational therapists typically focus on much more pragmatic activities such as the use of evidence-based assessments and discharge planning. However, there is a quiet resurgence of interest in creating individual and group experiences for patients that have artistic and creative activities at their core.

Just as their forebearers did a century ago, a number of UHN occupational therapists, along with their interprofessional colleagues are developing and facilitating innovative programs to engage patients in activities that are not only therapeutic, but that feed the need for creative expression.

In conjunction with writers, artists and musicians, these clinicians are leading in a renaissance in the use of meaningful activities as a means of healing. These are some of their stories.

Old black and white picture
An occupational therapy workshop on painting during WWI. (Photo: Courtesy Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists)

T​oronto General Hospital In-patient Psychiatry

Ronna Bloom, published poet, co-facilitates the Creative Writing Group in the in-patient psychiatry program at Toronto General Hospital. In conjunction with Allison Battistuzzi, an occupational therapist, and a nurse, this voluntary group offers the opportunity for participants to engage in a variety of receptive-prescriptive and expressive-creative exercises in a supportive and encouraging environment.

Subject matter is explored, and the chance to share and receive feedback is available. Participants have found that the group has stimulated self-reflection, increased communication between members, reduced feelings of isolation, and has enhanced self-esteem.

Patients reported feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride after writing, and some have continued to use creative writing as a valued therapeutic tool, and means of self-expression after discharge.

Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst Centre​

Occupational Therapy Arts Group at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst
Work of patients from the 10-week Occupational Therapy Arts Group at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst, Centre. During the relaxation week theme, participants paint something they find relaxing. In this session, there was a still life to paint but that’s not always the case. (Photo: Carrie Mizzoni) ​

The Occupational Therapy Arts Group at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst Centre, was developed as a 10-week, semi-structured OT-run art group to explore the benefits of, and relationship between art and quality of life, self-esteem and transition to the community for individuals with spinal cord injuries. 

Although the group has weekly themes, participants are encouraged to explore these themes in their own manner. The group also includes a community outing to the Art Gallery of Ontario and an art show. These events help foster independence and a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Feedback to date has been overwhelmingly positive from participants and staff alike.

Getting Comfortable
“Getting Comfortable” is the first session of the 10-week Occupational Therapy Arts Group at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst Centre. As an icebreaker, participants are invited to work together on one large canvass. (Photo: Carrie Mizzoni)​

Toronto Western Hospital Orthopedics

Engage is a program being developed and implemented through interprofessional collaboration on the orthopedic unit at Toronto Western Hospital. The program targets patients with cognitive and physical impairments, who may often have a prolonged stay in the hospital.

The goal of the program is to increase the patient's cognitive, physical and social stimulation by Engage-ing them in activities such as art and music (either one-on-one, or in groups), congregate dining for meals (with supervision and assistance provided), light exercise programs, as well as friendly visiting.

The program relies on the amazing work of Engage volunteers, and the enthusiastic participation of the team on 9A.  Although still in the early stages of implementation, the Engage team, which includes occupational therapist Michelle Mohan and social worker, Shelley Tymoszewicz, are optimistic that this program will continue to have a positive impact on patient outcomes.

Toronto General Hospital Intensive Care Units

Art of Recovery is a University of Toronto-based group that works with hospitals to provide patient comfort and enjoyment through the creative use of art.  Patients in TGH's ICUs were identified as a population that would benefit from the therapeutic support of the art program.

An enthusiastic interprofessional group, including Alexis Seaman, a speech language pathologist, a physiotherapist and Spiritual Care, met with Art of Recovery representatives and determined that the program could succeed safely in the challenging ICU setting. With coordination by UHN Volunteer Services, students provide an individualized artistic experience for patients and their families.

Since its beginning in fall 2015, Art of Recovery has proven its value as an activity that is both therapeutic and enjoyable, and has provided opportunities those in the ICU to meaningfully engage with others, think creatively, and form a positive lasting memory.​

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