In September I took part in an art therapy symposium called Art Heals led by Boston-based Professor of Art Therapy, Shaun McNiff and hosted by the London Art Therapy Centre. It was one of the most vital, moving and edifying meetings I’ve attended in over three decades as a medical doctor.
There were 120 participants, including art therapists, authors, researchers and health professionals who participated in a day that was experiential and interactive at all times. The film clip here gives but a small taste of the enthusiasm of McNiff and participants felt about the symposium. Going beyond Art Therapy (where the main tool is image-making) Shaun led us to the healing potential of all ‘Arts Therapies’ by integrating sculpture, music, dance and even comedy into an unforgettable day for all participants.
McNiff’s views on research ring true. His emphasis on the vital role of practitioner-based research where the aim is primarily to improve clinical skills and why art therapy should not be forced into paradigms unsuitable for an evaluation of its efficacy. This got me thinking again about the ugliness of the vile attack on holistic, alternative or complementary medicine in this country by non-clinicians. Apparently polymathic mathematicians, astrophysicists, comedians, lawyers and journalists (The views of Big Pharma and businesspeople with vested interests are unworthy of discussion.) waded into the debate with all the confidence of Oscar-winning actors using their acceptance speeches to point critical fingers at an errant world not living up to their more refined expectations of humanity.
I have come to the conclusion that it is clinicians who should play the major role in all medical research. There is an element of subjectivity in assessing medical efficacy as well as the obvious objective role of statistics. Gaussian curves are useful tools but need to be interpreted primarily by clinicians. Experts in other subjects but sans clinical experience should stick to their chosen fields and leave medicine alone. In my world, the Secretary of State for Health should also be a medical doctor as should most hospital superintendents, but I won’t be holding my breath waiting for this.