Filmed at Shands (teaching) Hospital in Florida, this documentary validates the importance of the arts and expressive therapies in all aspects of health care, including medical education. Pediatric oncologist John Graham-Pole and poetry therapist John Fox -often as a team- work with patients of all ages in groups and at the bedside.   Other physicians including a neuroscientist provide rational explanations of the release of endorphins and brain changes resulting from creative activities.  Though the healing process initiated by the reflective act of writing poetry is ostensibly the focus of the film, the documentary is permeated with the transforming effects of dance and art therapies in their ability to lessen physical and emotional pain; the importance of healing environments, not just paintings in lobbies, but in patient created ceiling tiles and wall installations; and especially the warmth, intimacy and humanity generated by exemplary physician communication skills.


Seated and chatting at the bedside, Graham-Pole and Fox jot down words of a young girl describing her cat and, moments later, as they read them aloud back to her, an instant poem is created.  Closing a wordless dance therapy session with Bertie, an adolescent suffering nine years in and out of hospital from intractable pain, the words of patient, therapist and others at the bedside are combined to poetically articulate the sense of community and connection with larger landscapes the viewer cannot help but marvel at. 

A read excerpt of Ruth Stone's, "dear children / You must try to say something when you are in need," introduces her (and their) belief that poetry is an emotional outcry coming from wounds, which can carry us from illness and loss to understanding and hope.  The metaphor of illness as a journey and ways we can be changed by musing on it is the raison d'etre of the film - this is reflected in another read excerpt, from Donald Hall's "The Ship Pounding" (see annotation and link to the poem.)

For teaching purposes, knowing that a 60 minute piece is almost impossible to work into educational settings, I'd suggest a series of "triggers" (even chapters)- varying from 3-10 minutes to evoke discussions.  The film-makers are considering the possibility of this additional offering, along with a study guide and continuing education credit opportunities. But for now, two video clips --Bertie and Jill [Sonke-Henderson], 5'50", cited above, and Does Poetry Heal, 6'07", are excellent introductions  to the art of, and the arts in, the practice of medicine.



Both John Graham-Pole and Jill Sonke-Henderson are active members of The Society for Arts in Healthcare. The Society website has an excellent collection of research data and online resources that complement the themes of this database.

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