Writing to Heal at Duke’s Health Arts Network

"I love bringing the solace and
humanity of poetry into the medical world which can sometimes be hectic,
technical and at worst dehumanizing," says Grey Brown, Director of Literary
Arts at Duke’s Health Arts Network.  She takes writing to the bedsides of long term patients to help them overcome the challenges of illness and isolation that comes with being hospitalized.  "I
became interested in the transformation in patients as they went from seeing
themselves differently in the hospital." 
She says they moved from being active humans to becoming a diagnosis.  "Writing and journaling in a state of the art
facility helps return patients to their stories.  It gives them a sense of action in a place
where they’re often treated as passive." 
Brown who studied English and teaches creative writing at Duke says that
she has no medical background, but views herself as an artist who brings the
arts to the hospital using a mindful approach. 
"Arts are therapeutic," she says. 
In the Duke program which was one of the first in the U.S., Brown
says that they carefully and mindfully select the art, poetry and images used and
provide constructive ways to engage with them. 
"We want to make a patient feel safe and secure," she says.

In her
workshops she shows caregivers how to use writing as a tool and instructs them
on how to encourage patients to journal without making it an obligation or
re-traumatizing them.  Her patients
include people in oncology, psychiatric treatment and organ transplant.  She gives out free journals and finds that
the writing, especially for long term patients, can relieve the sense of
isolation that leads to depression, provide spiritual connection and also be
very pragmatic and practical such as recording side effects of medication and
noting questions to ask the doctor.  "A
journal is a place of refuge and a companion when so much is taken away," she

"A lot of
people say, ‘What’s the right way [to journal]?’" Brown says.  "I say,
whatever’s right for you.  It doesn’t have to be everyday.  You can
make lists.  Do mind mapping.  Write poetry. 
Do it when it feels right and good. 
One of my oncology patients said, ‘I just write when the spirit moves
me.’  That’s a good approach."  For more on Grey Brown see her website
at:   http://www.greybrownpoetry.com

Copyright Debra Moffitt-Leslie, September 2009  http://www.debramoffitt.com


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