Archive for January, 2015

Can imagination and acting help reverse the symptoms of aging?

If “age is nothing but a mind-set”, might imagination and acting help reverse symptoms of aging?

The work of maverick Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, whose life’s work has demonstrated the power of expectations and assumptions in determining behavior and health was the subject of a Oct. 22, 2014 New York Times article entitled, “What if Age is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”

Langer has experimented with putting older adults in a physical time warp – creating a literal set from a time when they were younger and more vibrant, and asking them to act that age for five days to a week.  The result?  Improvements in such areas as suppleness, dexterity, posture, balance, mobility, and eyesight.

Similarly, in a study published in Psychological Science, Langer found that individuals asked to suit up and act like Air Force pilots in a flight simulator performed 40% better on a subsequent eyesight test than the control group that was asked to pretend to fly in a “broken” simulator.

Langer is now working with stage 4 cancer patients in a milieu designed to take them back to a healthier time past, using the arts and other activities to create a different mind-set.

Langer is famous for her study of the effect of plants in a nursing home.  Residents who were told that they were responsible for the care and well-being of the plants and were given jurisdiction over their schedules were twice as likely to survive than those who were told that the staff would take care of the plants and that they had no choice about their daily schedules.

In a study of diabetics, Langer found blood glucose levels to rise and fall according to perceived time rather than actual time.

Acting “as if “ may change what we actually believe about ourselves.  And that change in mind-set affects our biology.

Click here to read the whole fascinating article, which also addresses the positive effects of the placebo – even when people know they are taking one – and the dangers of the nocebo, such as being diagnosed with an illness.   Langer is gathering evidence that we can also will ourselves to illness, as we can to vitality.

Activities to deepen the meaning of holidays and special occasions

UCLArts and Healing offered two activities to deepen the meaning of the holidays, that can be used any time of year.

Gifts from the Heart – Art Activity 2014.pdf

Learn to make meaning through a time capsule in this activity offered by art therapist and marriage and family therapist, Erica Curtis.

Gifts from the Heart – Writing Activity 2014.pdf

Write about light as a metaphor to express how you feel or how you feel about someone special in this writing activity by poetry therapist and marriage and family therapist, Perie Longo.

When meds fail: The case for music therapy

In this heartfelt  and impassioned TED Talk, entitled, “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy,” board certified music therapist Tim Ringgold shares how he got to be the musical transformation for his young daughter’s passage into and out of this world.

Tim says: “When meds fail, the docs prescribe music.”

In describing his work with patients:  “I am meeting them inside the music.”

in describing his work as a music therapist:  “I stand at the intersection of art and science. And I get to administer music as medicine.”

Click here to view the video: “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy”.


Music also has the power to transform by giving voice to our feelings.

The following story describes the meaning in the choices of songs by an older man facing death.  The story is followed by an audio testimonial by a mom of how music therapy helped give voice to the feelings of her daughter, who she lost to cancer.

Both stories are from the American Music Therapy Association website.

The Transformative Power of Working with People Who Are Facing Death

“Our work as music therapists never stops giving us powerful experiences and lessons. This seems to be magnified when spending one’s days with people who are facing death. With this experience, music therapists are sensitized to the extreme emotions surrounding death, and can empathize with these patients and their families.

“I had the privilege of working with an older man, who I’ll refer to as Mr. Smith, and who dearly touched my heart. Countless patients of mine have touched me, but Mr. Smith will remain in my memory as vividly as I saw him in the very hours we spent together.

“At the end of life, there is a certain amount of one’s will that determines when one dies. I have seen people hold on to their lives with extreme pain and labored breathing, for weeks, just to reconcile a broken relationship with a loved one. That being said, there is simply no substitute for the beautiful and seamless opportunity that music therapy provides for people to complete their lives with dignity.

“Music allowed Mr. Smith to die peacefully. The two songs that he specifically requested conveyed the messages he needed to share before departing from this world. Music therapy provided him the crucial opportunity or medium to express what he felt.

“Since Mr. Smith was in a great deal of pain at the end of his life, we never engaged in very formal lyric analysis; however, Mr. Smith naturally expressed his analysis of these songs in small, intermittent statements during our sessions.

“The first song he requested was Send In The Clowns, by Stephen Sondheim. This song, to Mr. Smith, highlighted the gross irony that, in stark contrast to the beauty and potential happiness in this world, there is often great emotional and physical pain in our final hours. The grand exit and culmination of our lives is often marked “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Elliot so poignantly writes. It is a cold reality; a cruel joke that often leaves us bitter. Send in the Clowns validated and beautifully conveyed feelings for Mr. Smith when he could not. He said “I used to be able to sing and dance, and now-” he paused and closed his eyes, wincing from a shooting pain- “well, I’m here in this place.” “This place” was where people came to die. Mr. Smith knew that, because, in addition to being fully alert and oriented, he had a sister who had passed away there just two years before.

“The second song he requested was “Try to Remember,” from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. This is a beautiful song that he particularly wanted his family to hear. There are several lines in this song that Mr. Smith highlighted by mouthing the words to his wife:

“Try to remember… and follow.”
“Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow.”

“I’ve wondered what Mr. Smith’s room would’ve been like without music therapy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith had four children- one who’d been estranged- all of whom were quite anxious. No one’s anxiety exceeded that of his wife, however. I was able to witness the facilitation of tears, hugs, and precious family interactions by our music therapy sessions together.

“I’ve also wondered how my life would be without the experience and privilege of working with Mr. Smith. It is impossible to know for sure, but I can say that I am better able to keep an eye on the big picture of my life after working with him.

“My time with Mr. Smith instilled in me a powerfully transformative thought. The music of our lives remains long after our bodies pass away; the love contained therein is eternal and will last beyond our pain.

Written by Sharon Graham, MM, MT-BC

 The Gift of Music Therapy During My Daughter’s Battle with Cancer

“When Allison would peek through the window of our hospital room door, guitar in hand, we would heave a sigh of relief and wave her in… Music has the power to transport the listener.” Listen to this 3-minute testimonial from Jefri Franks, the mom of a child who received music therapy services throughout her fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Jefri shares highlights of music therapy helped her family find outlets and insights through their “harrowing journey.”

Note: Current AMTA members can find a more detailed discussion of her family’s experiences with music therapy in the AMTA-pro podcast series.


Art therapy life narrative activity for youth with history of trauma

Linda Chapman, MA ATR-BC

Art therapist Linda Chapman shares a technique that she finds increasingly valuable in art therapy with children and teens with a history of developmental or complex trauma. It requires very little media, space, and can be worked on at the child’s pace of comfort.

Autobiographical Life Narrative

Creating an autobiographical life narrative is completed over a number of sessions, sometimes weeks or months.  This requires a roll of paper 12″ x 15-20′ long, resembling a roll of paper towels.

I offer graphite and colored pencils, markers, pastels and paint, but the drawing can be done with any drawing media.   I also have infant stickers depicting infant supplies, toys, and “It’s a Boy” and “It’s a Girl” stickers.  I also have toy catalogues available.

I begin by asking the child if they know where they were born, such as in a hospital or at home, and if they know who was present.  The child may or may not know this, but can find out.  If they do know, I ask them to depict the hospital, those present, and anything else they know about that day.  Then I ask if they heard any stories about themselves as a baby, and do they remember a favorite toy. They find images or draw depictions of what they recall as a young child.  I then ask about day-care, pre-school and other early experiences to stimulate them thinking of their early years.  The images will depict toys, clothes, and important people as well as negative experiences such as domestic violence.  We continue the narrative until it is the present time, which may take many sessions.

As the child works on the visual narrative, it becomes a reference tool for accessing memories, emotions, and thoughts.  The experience also is a vehicle for exploring losses as favorite toys or people and places are remembered.  Another item that I notice appears is the many injustices suffered by children which are seemingly never forgotten.  One of the most useful aspects of the narrative is to use it as a template for remembering when the child began hearing voices, or began cutting.  The depiction of the stressor is often is visual form just before cutting or suicide attempts.  This allows me to normalize the maladaptive coping as an attempt to control emotions.  After doing so, one teen remarked, “This is the first time I have ever understood why I cut.”

I recommend you proceed slowly, and let the child know they can work on the narrative as much or as little as they like at each session.  Often the age of the developmental arrest is when the child stops drawing or working on the narrative.  With gentle encouragement and normalizing of wanting to avoid the painful memories, most children will complete the narrative, but not always.


Linda Chapman, MA, ATR-BC, is a registered and board certified art therapist and play therapist who directs the Art Therapy Institute of the Redwoods in Northern California, a center for learning and therapy. Linda was affiliated with the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine for 25 years, where she held clinical faculty and research appointments. Linda was a creator and for 10 years directed the UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital Pediatric Play Therapy Program, and has conducted federally funded art therapy outcome research with the UCSF/SFGH Injury Center and Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Linda is a nationally recognized expert in art therapy and play therapy with children who are victims of violence, child abuse and medical trauma. She is the author of several peer-review papers and has authored and co-authored chapters in Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, California Art Therapy Trends and Group Play Therapy She is a member of the review board of Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. Linda is an adjunct faculty member of many universities.

UCLA Integrative Medicine Conference 2014: Creative Arts Therapies Panel

Click here to view the creative arts therapies panel.

Integrative Medicine in the Community through the Creative Arts Therapies:  Experiential Panel Presentations on Creative Arts Therapies at the UCLA Integrative Medicine Conference – March 1, 2014

The creative arts therapies offer accessible, nonverbal and universal tools for facilitating emotional and physical health through a focus on the process of expression, rather than performance or product. The creative arts therapies can offer a humanizing complement to increasingly technological medical care, that can enhance the environment of medicine and address the increasing societal health care burden from chronic diseases rooted in emotions and behavior.

A panel of clinician/scholars from four creative arts therapy disciplines (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and music therapy) demonstrate how and why the creative arts therapies are so effective as an integrative medicine discipline.  This remarkable presentation features the layering on of each art form in an experiential presentation.

The 2014 Conference for Integrative Medicine panel presenters include:

Ping Ho, MA, MPH (Moderator) – Founding Director, UCLArts and Healing; Steering Committee member, UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine; member of the Council of Advisers for the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

Erica Curtis, MFT, ATR-BC – Past President of the Southern California Art Therapy Association; past board member of the American Art Therapy Association; Instructor at Loyola Marymount University Department of Marital and Family Therapy with specialized training in Clinical Art Therapy.  Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Board Certified Art Therapist

John Mews, MA, MTA, MFT Registered Intern – Executive Director and Founder: Mewsic Moves; Board Certified Music Therapist, Marriage and Family Therapy Registered Intern; Special Needs Family and Parenting Coach.

Mimi Savage
, PhD Candidate, RDT – Southern California Chapter President of the North American Drama Therapy Association; Registered Drama Therapist; Drama Therapy Fund Professional Research Grant Recipient for 2014; Instructor for UCLArts and Healing SEA Program.

Lora Wilson Mau, MA, BC-DMT – President of the California Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association; Lecturer at California State University, Long Beach, Department of Dance.  Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist.

Music therapy for recovery from brain injury: the remarkable story of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords


Photo of Giffords undergoing music therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. The image is from her interview in November 2011 with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20.


This PBS clip brings attention to the efficacy of music therapy in recovery from brain injury. For example, language can be accessed through music pathways in the brain because music and language are stored together, and music is stored in both hemispheres of the brain.

The benefits of music therapy for brain injury received increased attention as a result of the video-documented recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose family credits music therapy for her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

According to Eric Walden, who teaches music therapy at University of the Pacific, sometimes it’s easier for people who have had a brain injury to sing words than say them. He describes music therapy as a serving as a “cerebral bypass” around damaged areas of the brain, allowing someone to regain mobility or speech. He further explains that while music is universally helpful to all, music therapy specifically involves a therapeutic relationship and the intentional use of music for non-musical goals. (These statements are documented in a PBS video entitled, The Healing Power of Music , 2/27/12.)

Click here to view the remarkable footage of a music therapist working with Rep. Giffords. Fast forward to the middle of the clip in order to see the actual work with Rep. Giffords. This footage features commentary by neurologist Oliver Sacks, MD.