Healing Service Members Through the Arts

IAM Lab participated in the first annual Foundation of Youth Consortium in Saint Petersburg and Tampa, Fla., March 23- 24, 2018. Symposium leaders launching this initiative include Dr. Jonathon Ellen, President of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital; Hank Hine, Executive Director of the Dali Museum; Susan Magsamen, Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins (IAM Lab);  and Gary Sasso and Judy Lisi, Board Chair and Executive Director of The Straz Performing Arts Center, respectively.

“We are excited to foster our community’s curiosity and interest in the mysteries of neuroscience and how the healing effects of the arts may bring positive change to those who suffer,” Hine said in opening remarks to a group of civic and community leaders.

This inaugural event included a high-profile group of researchers, clinicians and therapists sharing some of the most current information on traumatic brain injury and the military.

Magsamen opened the event with a keynote speech on the power and importance of the emerging field of neuroaesthetics and the marriage of the arts and sciences. Melissa Walker, the lead art therapist for Creative Forces: the NEA/Military Healing Arts Network shared compelling case studies illustrating a range of creative arts therapies including mask making and narrative stories used by soldiers to help their healing processes.  Vassilis Koliatsos, professor of pathology and neurology and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine provided an important biological and neurological overview and history of brain trauma and injury.  Sara Kass M.D., a retired U.S. Navy captain who serves as the senior military and medical advisor to Creative Forces, introduced the audience to the range of services and efforts underway at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Moira McGuire, a U.S. Navy officer who works as the chief of integrative health and wellness at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and founder of the annual “Healing Arts” exhibit at Walter Reed, offered a unique perspective in integrative health and the military.  She often starts her conversations with military personnel suffering from traumatic brain injury by saying, “Don’t tell me what’s the matter with you, tell me what matters to you.” According to McGuire, this invitation to think about their lives from a different perspective can be a clear turning point. McGuire continued, “When your brain is hurt it impacts everything in your life. Our goal is to heal the invisible wounds. To be successful, patients need to be deeply connected to their recovery, their support systems and themselves.”

The program concluded with a panel discussion and community Q&A moderated by Dr. Ellen.  In  closing, remarked,  “It is our hope that the Foundation events will provide an experience to create even richer community engagement as we examine topics like the beauty of the brain as it relates to traumatic brain injury, links between the brain and the arts and healing program for service members who suffer from a traumatic brain injury.  We look forward to continuing to provide provocative, evidence-based programming to enrich, inform and inspire action in our community.”

Fred Johnson, artist in residence at The Straz closed the event with a sound sculpture.  Calling on a rich African story and narrative tradition, Johnson created a song out of the words and feeling spoken during the event.  Beautiful, compelling and spellbinding, Johnson expressed in music what was felt by all – the power of the arts.

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