Drexel University and Johns Hopkins University Announce Unique Study of Therapeutics Arts Using Virtual Reality

woman wearing virtual reality gear

A shared research interest in the applications of creative expression and creative arts therapies at Drexel University's College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP) and Johns Hopkins University's International Arts + Mind (IAM) Lab has shaped a new collaboration between the two universities. Built on the collective values of applied and translational research linking the creative arts and brain sciences, researchers from CNHP and IAM Lab will work together on a new creative arts therapies project that utilizes virtual reality.

Traditional art therapy integrates physical materials and art-making processes to deliver successful mental health interventions for those managing challenges from trauma to everyday stress. Girija Kaimal, EdD, an assistant professor in CNHP's Creative Arts Therapies Department, and Susan Magsamen, MAS, executive director at the IAM Lab, Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, will take a look at the use and impact of virtual reality in successful art therapy interventions. This research is guided by creative arts therapies and artistic expressions promoting health and well-being on a continuum that spans preventive and interventional approaches.

To date, no studies have systematically examined how art therapy can be integrated into virtual reality-based expression to enhance patient care. Findings could help expand arts therapy opportunities to clinical populations including those in physical rehabilitation and those facing psychological stressors and challenges.

"We are very excited to explore innovative art therapies and its impact in our lives," said Kaimal. "This promising partnership brings together two institutions invested in creative approaches to promoting health and enhancing well-being across the lifespan."

This project will integrate IAM Lab's Impact Thinking model, a new translational research approach, into all aspects of implementation and dissemination, while CNHP will provide expertise on creative arts therapies clinical practice and research.

"Drexel is at the forefront of rigorous research in the arts as solutions for health and well-being," said Magsamen. "Using the IAM Lab's Impact Thinking model -a consensus framework for problem identification, research, translation, dissemination and outcome evaluation using the arts- we hope to add knowledge for our growing field and enhance practice."

Kaimal and Magsamen will also collaborate on seminars planned by IAM Lab for 2019 and 2020, focused on collaborative discovery, dissemination and applied research methods in neuroaesthetics. This project is the second collaboration between CNHP and Johns Hopkins University.

One of the first collaborative efforts has involved the Tailored Activity Program (TAP) which was developed by CNHP Dean Laura N. Gitlin, PhD while at JHU School of Nursing.

TAP is an evidence-based program that assesses the abilities and interests of persons living with dementia and then instructs caregivers in their use. Activities may range from using crafts, listening to music, cooking or other activities. Research on the program continues at Drexel University Online while an examination of the underlying physiological mechanisms of TAP will be studied at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center outpatient day program. Salivary specimens will be collected to evaluate whether activity participation reduces physiological stress.

"Results from previous clinical trials suggest TAP mitigates unwanted behavioral and psychological symptoms, helps to maintain daily function, and improves caregiver wellbeing," said Gitlin. "This project will extend our understanding of TAP by examining its effects on physiological distress."

TAP is being deployed in various countries, including in Scotland as part of its national dementia care plan. There is hope to bring the program to Drexel's CNHP in the near future.