Art Therapy Helps Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury

NJ Spotlight News | March 23, 2016 | Health Care

By Briana Vannozzi

With each stroke and each sketch, a little piece of life is reclaimed.

“After the accident I became an introvert. I stayed home, I avoided talking with people because I couldn’t keep up with the conversations,” said Jennifer Mount.

But traumatic brain injury survivor Mount found her voice again — after a therapist at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute put a brush back in her hands.

“It just made me more comfortable in my skin. I was more confident,” Mount said.

The former art instructor was able to reconnect with the cognitive functions and mobility she lost from her injury. Doctors say evidence shows recreational therapies, like art or music, help heal the brain at faster and more complete rates.

“It’s all about trying to get those pathways resurrected and trying to normalize all the pathways, trying to normalize the brain function,” said Dr. Brian Greenwald, medical director at the Center for Head Injuries at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.

Dr. Greenwald has seen patients turn the corner after non-traditional therapies are introduced. He says they’re less stressful and giving patients a zest for life helps the will to heal.

“People look at a lot of the basics — did we get the patient home, how far are they walking and all those things — which are good but if you’re not really enjoying life or feeling the enjoyment that you once had outside the basics, you lose that,” Dr. Greenwald said.

“Sometimes I actually come across that they have a visual deficit when they start to draw and paint, and it’s like oh they’re missing something on the right or in the middle. It helps them visually scan the piece, construct and put things together,” said Cheryl Dougherty, rehab supervisor.

Medical staff will introduce recreational therapies for patients as they see fit. It’s not just about working on cognitive or motor skills. They say it creates a support network for them too.

“I’ve seen people very agitated, frustrated, restless and I find that the painting helps them get that out,” Dougherty said.

“Your attention is so devoted to what you’re doing and what you’re constructing that everything else just fades away,” said Julia Fiorino.

And for some it’s turned from therapy to hobby to a career as they reinvent their new normal.

“My healing still continues. It’s not always upstream and I’ve fallen down a few times, but I’m here and I am thankful,” said Mount.