Virtual conference

Virtual conference explores the use of artistic experiences to reduce the burden of pain

The conference, co-hosted by an assistant professor from UC Davis, opened a conversation between scientists, museum and health professionals and people living with chronic pain

By SONORA SLATER — [email protected]

Have you ever insisted to your best friend that when you listen to your favorite song, you feel less anxious, less depressed, or less alone? Or did you recommend someone a book you liked because it made you feel understood for the first time?

For generations we have instinctively turned to the arts for entertainment and support in difficult times. But, it turns out there is scientific support for using the arts to relieve pain.

On March 11, a free virtual conference called “The Analgesic Museum” explored this idea by hosting several panelists to discuss the different ways the arts can “reduce the burden of pain”. according to a recent press release.

The event was co-organized by Ian Koebner, assistant professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at UC Davis School of Medicine, and had 157 registrants from 22 countries.

In the introduction to the conference, Koebner described the collaborative nature they hoped to inspire by inviting a diverse group of speakers to the event.

“The intention of this conference is truly to create an interdisciplinary and international network of scientists, museum and health professionals, people living with pain and artists committed to exploring the aesthetics and impact of pain. commitment of museums to reduce the burden of pain,” says Koebner.

The conference sought to cover three main areas of interest, according to Koebner: exhibition development, artistic experiences and practices, and creative research and scholarship. They welcomed guest speakers from each of these areas of interest, and the presentations were followed by moderated discussions.

Koebner explained that, in the past, there had been a disconnect between arts organizations like museums and public health.

“This social status is likely multifactorial,” Koebner said. “The result of a vision of art for art’s sake that wishes to separate true art from any intended function or purpose, or perhaps an audience that hesitates or even scoffs at the idea that institutions, whose many originally designed to house the privileged elite’s artifacts or currently house collections taken through colonialism and imperialism, can help cure anything.

However, he went on to say that in recent years this has started to change, as initiatives have emerged to examine the intersection of art and health, and scientific researchers have developed a body of research that “support the role of the arts in promoting health”. .”

Manon Parry, professor of medical history at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and one of the speakers at the conference, noted a few things in her presentation to which this change could be attributed.

“[Museums] increasingly recognize that visitors often seek out spaces to engage with ideas about […] what is considered normal or abnormal, or healthy or unhealthy,” Parry said. “There is also growing recognition that speaking to a disabled audience does not mean reaching just a small minority and that in fact addressing these topics helps us all because we are all affected by ableist ideas about what is the well-being and by the stigma that can accompany the disease.

Still, Koebner told the conference that the work being done on these topics is limited.

“[The question is], why should we devote creative, financial and intellectual resources to thinking about how the arts can reduce the burden of pain in particular? said Koebner.

For starters, these resources would be used appropriately because chronic pain affects more than 30 percent of people worldwide, and in the United States alone, about 100 million Americans live with persistent pain, according to Koebner. Additionally, in the United States, long-term pain costs an estimated $600 billion a year in medical costs and lost productivity.

Despite the fact that a lack of participation in social activities is associated with higher pain intensity and distress, a survey of healthcare providers and pain clinics found that 89% believed that ” the social health of patients was either irrelevant to their clinical practice or outside their scope”. of practice,” according to Koebner.

“It’s important because people with pain say so,” Koebner told the conference. “Satisfaction with social roles and relationships may be a stronger predictor of emotional well-being than physical functioning in patients with chronic pain.”

Koebner believes museums can be a place to provide that necessary sense of connection and belonging.

“Museums and art spaces can […] be restorative environments,” Koebner said. “[They can] provide opportunities to learn and acquire new skills, calm and reduce anxiety, and provide new and new aesthetically strange experiences that can be inspiring and meaningful.

Melissa Menzer, Senior Program Analyst for the National Endowment for the Arts, spoke during her presentation on music, another aspect of the artistic experience. Music is the most sought after medium of art and healing, according to Menzer.

“Listening to music has been shown to reduce postoperative pain, chronic pain, and the need for pain medication,” Menzer said at the conference. “Music has also been shown to improve preparation and motivation for treatment of substance use disorders and reduce food cravings.”

Christopher Bailey, head of arts and health for the World Health Organization and speaker at the conference, used his interactions with his stepfather, who was a pianist all his life before he was diagnosed with the disease. Alzheimer’s, to illustrate the impact of art on suffering.

“He was walking around during the day in a state of anxious confusion, not knowing where he was, why he was there,” Bailey said at the conference. “When he approached the piano, sometimes he didn’t recognize what a piano was. He would forget that he knew how to play. But once his hands were on the keys, motor muscle memory began to take over and he began to play – not perfectly, but fluently, and […] he would have three, four minutes of extended pleasure.

Bailey emphasized that it was not a cure; it did not reverse disease progression. However, it offered his stepfather “moments of relief”.

“How many times have they not been in a state of anxiety? Bailey said. “How many times was there a social interaction?” How many times has a memory been evoked? They are like gold to a patient with dementia because they are losing the very foundations of our normal existence. It had a profound effect – maybe not prolonged, but those moments are essential.

Koebner concluded his introduction by presenting the conference as the first step in what he hopes will become a broader conversation and movement.

“For some, pain is a clinical problem to be solved,” Koebner said. “For others, it’s an integral part of a successful life. Some attempt to frame it in biomedical terms, others as a matter of social justice. And, of course, it’s all that and more. I imagine that not all of the approaches discussed today will resonate with everyone, so please accept this talk as a first step in the first conversation to critique and expand.

Written by: Sonora Slater — [email protected]