1by John Weeks, Publisher/Editor of The Integrator Blog News and Reports

Long before the beginning of efforts to better integrate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with conventional care, many philosophically-aligned practices and practitioners were already gaining footholds in various domains. These are the “creative arts therapies” or “CATs,” which include music, art, dance, and other therapies. Now, a pioneering figure behind the Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine at UCLA, Ping Ho, MA, MPH, is hosting a major conference March 30 through April 2,  “Creativity & the Arts in Healing,” through her nationally-recognized not-for-profit, UCLArts and Healing.

2UCLArts and Healing developed this conference in partnership with the East Coast-based Expressive Therapies Summit.  Ho, whose effectiveness study on her “Beat the Odds” drumming program in schools gained national attention, is driving the planning and content of the inaugural Los Angeles event. Ho serves in multiple leadership capacities in the integrative health and medicine movement, including the Council of Advisors for the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health, steering committee of the Association Leadership Council of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, and as the Associate Editor for Creative Arts Therapies with the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The conference will feature over 125 workshops in art, dance, drama, drumming, music, and writing integrated with mental health practices. These are described in event materials as “arts-based tools for facilitating communication, building connections, promoting positive emotions, fostering engagement, reducing stress, and managing the impact of trauma.” The content’s focus is on experiential training.

Program materials offer a description of how the CATs work in healing. “Creative expression invites self-reflection and dialogue that can lead to meaningful self-discovery, connection with others, and personal empowerment,” it reads. “Studies have shown that the arts—particularly when integrated with mental health practices—can yield social, emotional, physical and cognitive benefits.  The nonverbal aspect of the arts transcends traditional barriers of age, ability, and culture.  Shared creative experiences build empathy and community, which expand possibilities for action and transformation.”

I contacted Ho for comments on the program. “This conference is broadly interdisciplinary,” she said. “It offers tools to an unprecedented breadth of professionals in mental health, community arts, education, complementary and integrative health care, and social services.”

Many of the sessions, she adds, “integrate the creative arts with psychotherapy approaches, contemplative practices and community building. Our aim is to increase the capacity of community-based professionals to address intractable problems such as trauma and social disconnection.”

One track is on Community Building & Social Justice. Ho’s own professional work with Beat the Odds and other in-school programs has informed the conference’s “emphasis on important themes of multiculturalism and underserved populations.” Other tracks focus on mindfulness, play therapy, expressive writing and journaling, and children and adolescents.

Comment: When I learned over a decade ago from our mutual colleague, Lucy Gonda, of Ho’s distinctive work in knitting together the creative arts therapies with the “integrative” community at UCLA, Ho quickly became my mentor in this arena. As a one-time creative writer now closely involved with research, I was drawn to her MA plus MPH combination. She later became a collaborator and colleague at ACIH and AIHM, and then subsequently asked me to join her Board of Directors, which I did. Among her many accomplishments was introducing CATs into the integrative mix at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Portland, Oregon in 2012.

3I made an interesting discovery after I began working collaboratively with Ho to better integrate the CATs professionals with educators from complementary and integrative health professions. Like the chiropractors, CATs fields such as dance therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, and art therapy had already gained a modicum of acceptance in regular treatment. Licensing and certification for some had commenced in the 1970s. There were accepted practices in many programs, such as those for children, seniors, and special education populations. So, like chiropractors, association with CAM was initially viewed by some to be a step backward.

When we collaboratively helped integrate CATs representatives into the 2011 biennial gathering of what is now the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health, we quickly discovered that for virtually all parties, this confluence felt like old home week.