Emerging Trends, Student Life

Art therapy as a form of self care

Starting Nov. 1, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) will waive entrance fees for visitors with doctor’s prescriptions. Throughout a one-year trial period, the museum will conduct research on art’s healing capabilities with the goal of promoting the physical and psychological benefits of a cultural outing. The city-wide program is particularly valuable for students as art is effective in decreasing anxiety, stress, and depression.

Art therapy is a form of treatment which promotes self care through artistic expression and viewing. A recent study at Texas State University found that students who partook in art therapy experienced a significant decrease in anxiety compared to another group of students who received standard forms of therapy.

The MMFA’s new program will provide McGill students with an opportunity to experience the effects of art therapy in a world class setting. While there are several McGill support groups on campus, such as the McGill Art Hive Initiative (MAHI), for students to gain relief for a range of health issues, this new alternative offers a more diverse array of facilities. Nathalie Bondil, director general and chief curator of the MMFA, piloted the program in partnership with physicians from Médecins francophones du Canada (MdFC). She hopes that the initiative will popularize creating and viewing artwork as a form of self care.

“Cultural experiences will benefit health and wellness, just as engaging in sports contributes to fitness,” Bondil said. “Just as doctors now prescribe exercise, they will be able to prescribe a visit to the MMFA.”

Social work graduate student Salima Punjani, an intern in the art therapy sector of the museum, explained that this program serves as a new way for students to augment their current self-care routines.   

“I would absolutely recommend that McGill students take time out of their days to come to the MMFA,” Punjani said. “I think it is important to take breaks and to also stimulate your mind in different ways through different textures, colours, and forms. I think listening, reading and writing are great tools for learning but it is important to step out of the box.”  

McGill students who wish to take advantage of the pricing discount will need a prescription from a physician who is a member of the MdFC; however, visitors without the proper documentation can partake in the other programs offered by the museum and its community partners. According to Stephen Legari, art therapist at the MMFA, the museum’s opportunities range from a typical trip to the museum to utilizing their educational and therapeutic services to reap the benefits of art therapy. Among these facilities is the Art Hive, an open-access space for visitors to create art with the guidance of art therapists.

“I like to think of the museum in terms of its doors,” Legari said. “There are all of these different doors [through which] you can enter the museum. You can enter through the front door as a visitor, tourist, [or] member, or you can enter through the side doors as a student, […] but how we approach these doors really depends on what the individual is looking for and what are they hoping to achieve.”

Though there are art hives across the world, the MMFA Art Hive is the only one situated inside of an art museum. Legari explained that the MMFA hive’s museum setting creates a particularly distinctive experience.  

“When art therapy is practiced in a community centre, in a school, or in a clinic, it tends to look a lot like a mental health service, with the important exception that we are always working with art,” Legari said. “The foundation of our practice is [that] we believe in nonverbal communication as a means of helping people through whatever they are living with.”

Most McGill students have a non-stop schedule and often put their mental health health aside in stressful times. However, art therapy programs, such as those offered at the MMFA, provide a way for students to take control of their mental health through new and creative outlets.

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