ART THERAPY AND CHAGAS DISEASE
In 1998, Arturo went on a journey to India. As the area he wanted to visit was endemic for malaria, he consulted the Drassanes Tropical Medicine Department. Our longstanding friendship began that day.
In 2006, we asked Arturo to make a mural for our lobby to pay homage to immigrants. He named it “Inmigrantes de cuerpo y alma” (“Immigrants in body and soul”). Thanks to his outlook and professionalism, he has maintained close ties to our department and has even produced another mural for display in the centre’s garden.
He often exhibits his art at Wonee, our dedicated art space.
His latest exhibition was a selection of artworks created by a group of elderly people, the fruit of his work as a resident art therapist.
For all these reasons, we immediately thought of him when planning art therapy for individuals affected by Chagas disease as part of the BeatChagas initiative. We started working on the programme in August 2014.
ART THERAPY WORKSHOPS FOR CHAGAS DISEASE
Providing art therapy for individuals affected by a health problem like Chagas disease is a challenging yet innovative opportunity that offers a rich and varied array of techniques to address diverse factors such as: immigration; social, professional and economic situations; general well-being; creative potential; treatment for resistance and personal inhibitions; group bonding and monitoring; communication through a range of techniques (verbal, artistic, metaphorical etc.); learning about one’s inner self; the search for alternatives to all sorts of problems and much more. The component aimed at carriers of the disease intends to provide a space for individuals to be creative and exchange experiences to deal with the things they worry about most, whether related to their disease or not. Patients can approach the key issue – Chagas disease – through different exercises, tasks and expressions to help them describe their personal and group realities and to discover new ways to tackle and live with their condition.
The component aimed at health workers seeks to offer a caring space for exploration where participants can use their communicative and expressive skills. It intends to encourage a relaxed atmosphere where participants can tackle issues not often addressed in other spaces due to lack of time among other reasons. This component also proposes to help the group explore new ways to understand health and disease as experienced by the participants themselves and when it happens to others. Health workers need to be able to imagine and understand their patients’ experiences as this can help develop attitudes, pathways and tools that contribute toward a better level of health and creativity in treatment settings.
RESULTS AND FINAL REFLECTIONS
Experience has shown that this mechanism can spark interesting and profound personal and group development. Sessions held with a group of Bolivian patients bridged the cultural and existential gap and allowed the art therapist and participants to share a common space and time. The flexibility of certain elements in the project framework meant participants could form trusting bonds and open up through communication. Over the course of treatment, participants peeled away layers through expressive and creative projects to reach the core issues at the conclusion of their therapy: addressing Chagas disease and its implications for patients’ lives and deaths. Through their artistic creations, the individuals affected formed their own attitudes and responses to their situation as Chagas disease carriers. The schedule followed by health workers allowed blank pages to become vibrant works of art.
Initial inhibitions and hesitation melted away through contact with and use of artistic methods and materials. The act of creating art became more and more natural. Dialogues were opened that allowed each participant to expose their most intimate and personal sides in a welcoming environment. Some exercises and experiences involved past challenges faced by patients. Exploring the relationship between health and social issues led to significant discoveries. The group’s light, cheerful and communicative atmosphere witnessed at the programme’s conclusion was proof of the positive effects of the experiment. Both groups concluded with a presentation of visual diaries made by some of the participants. The presentation and contents of the diaries vividly depicted these vital techniques as if they were newly opened windows through which others could observe the beauty of human life, its challenges and its joys.