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  • A Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) fine arts course that pairs students with patients at Bradley Hospital, the nation's first psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents, has received a top honor in the 2008 Blair L. Sadler International Arts and Healing Competition.

    The members of the review panel who selected Art as a Source of Healing say it "represents one of the most innovative arts projects, demonstrating a unique partnership between a hospital, a medical school and an art school."

    A collaboration of Bradley Hospital, RISD and Brown University, Art as a Source of Healing is a 12-week course that enrolls students interested in exploring both the historical and modern-day relationships between the arts and healing. Using multi-media art projects as the catalyst, students work with patients at Bradley Hospital, often serving as mentors to children with emotional, behavioral or developmental problems who reside in group homes or residential treatment programs. The program is in its eighth year and includes undergraduate and graduate RISD students as well as Brown pre-med students.

    Art as a Source of Healing is coordinated by course instructor Melinda M. Bridgman, adjunct professor/lecturer at RISD, and Margaret Paccione-Dyszlewski, PhD, director of the department of behavioral education at Bradley Hospital. They will be presented with their award on April 18th at the Society for the Arts in Healthcare's 19th annual conference in Philadelphia.

    "Art as a Source of Healing is more than just a college course; it is truly a life-changing experience for both the students as well as the patients here at Bradley Hospital," says Paccione-Dyszlewski. "We're both proud and excited that this program has been recognized by the Society for Arts in Healthcare and hope that it will serve as a model for other institutions."

    "It is an honor to be recognized with such a prestigious award, particularly for such a special program," says Bridgman. "This course helps our students develop awareness and interest in serving their community through their artistic talents, an important lesson and one that can't be easily taught in a classroom. In many ways, my students are actually learning more from the children at Bradley, not the other way around."

    Students participating in "Art as a Source of Healing" are required to submit both a personal transformation project, which demonstrates how some aspect of the course is healing to them, and a practicum project, which explores their mentoring relationship with their partner. Last fall, a variety of individual and collaborative projects created by students and patients were on display at RISD's Woods Gerry Gallery in an exhibit entitled, "Art as a Source of Healing: A Retrospective." The exhibit included paintings, drawings, etchings, hand-castings, clay monoprints, sculptures, weavings and poetry.

    During the fall semester, patients in the Bradley Hospital Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, who often have serious emotional and behavioral problems in addition to a developmental disability, travel to RISD to work in the studios with their student mentors. According to Paccione-Dyszlewski, this provides a unique socialization opportunity for these patients, who reside in one of Bradley's residential homes.

    In the spring semester, students come to Bradley Hospital to partner with children in the Children's Residential and Family Treatment (CRAFT) program. The CRAFT program cares for children ages 4 to 12 who do not require inpatient care but cannot yet live with their families.

    Paccione-Dyszlewski says Art as a Source of Healing offers tremendous therapeutic value to Bradley patients, who benefit from developing a relationship with a caring, consistent adult. She points out that the children usually feel great pride and satisfaction during the creative process, particularly when they get to see their finished pieces, which can be displayed in group homes, taken home or given as gifts. About 200 patients have participated in the program to date.

    In addition to experiencing the challenges and joys of mentoring a child with special needs, Bridgman says RISD students also learn to work collaboratively, both with hospital staff and patients, in designing and developing the pieces while familiarizing themselves with the field of children's mental health.

    The Blair L. Sadler International Healing Arts Competition has been in partnership with the Society for Arts in Healthcare, an organization dedicated to promoting the incorporation of the arts as an integral component of healthcare, since its inception in 2001. The competition aims to recognize innovative artists who have partnered with healthcare organizations to develop and implement high quality projects that have a measurable impact on patients, families or staff.