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The Evolution of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University

March 28, 2017

by Roberta Perry
The history of Creative Arts Therapies (CAT) programs at Drexel is long and rich with interesting people, philosophies and success. Myra Levick arrived at Hahnemann Medical College in 1967 to develop a graduate art therapy program, and this evolved into a dream that it would evolve to encompass art, music and dance/movement therapies as the robust educational, research and clinical department that it is today. Now offering three master’s and one doctoral degree and taking on research projects like “The Impact of Music Listening on Cortical Brain Structures Associated with Emotional Self-Regulation in US” funded by the GRAMMY and “A Model of Dance/Movement Therapy for Resilience in People with Chronic Pain: A Mixed Methods Grounded Theory Study” funded by the Marian Chace Foundation, CNHP’s CAT department is one of the preeminent in the country.
Creative arts therapies have a profound impact for those with difficult and often debilitating physical, emotional and developmental challenges. Using the creative arts therapies in conjunction with traditional treatments for traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, physical disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic illnesses and mental health challenges has shown positive outcomes for patients. A study being conducted by Kendra Ray, board certified music therapist and CNHP doctoral student, has shown that after only two weeks of music therapy, symptoms of depression for nursing home residents suffering from dementia decreased by 38 percent. Girija Kaimal, EdD’s research with the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center shows that encouraging active duty service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to create art, specifically paper-mâché masks, creates a visual community for them and helps guide treatment as it gives therapists an understanding of military experience from the service member’s perspective.
With a department of 12 resident faculty, and active clinical practices in Parkway Health & Wellness of Drexel University, the CNHP’s CAT programs have come quite a long way since Drs. Levick, Israel Zwerling, Dianne Dulicai, and Cynthia Briggs brought their initial vision to fruition in the 1970s. The creative arts therapies are being used more than ever in addressing and preventing formidable societal and health concerns. To continue to bring awareness to CAT, the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA) has declared one week in March Creative Arts Therapies Week  to celebrate and share the work that these therapists do to help so many individuals.
CNHP doctoral student and board certified dance/movement therapist Eri Millrod and alumnus Andy Freedman organized a creative arts therapies day on Wednesday, March 22, at Princeton House Behavioral Health Conference Center where Millrod and Freeman work. This event was created to demonstrate how CAT is very effective as part of a multidisciplinary approach to treating adults, adolescents and children with mental health issues. Millrod and Freedman, a board certified music therapist, have seminars scheduled for art therapy (What it is and What it is Not), dance/movement therapy (Intersection of Creativity and Mindfulness) and music therapy (Music Therapy on a Women’s Trauma Unit).
Researchers at CNHP will continue to study the effects of creative arts therapies on stress, chronic pain and illness and PTSD and brain injuries and the CAT faculty will continue to offer their students the best clinical education possible. As the population continues to grow and age and the world gets more complex, the healing these specially-trained therapists and research these investigators offer will be crucial in dealing with the mounting stress that people feel every day.