Genesee Health System Awards Mini-Grant to McLaren Flint Foundation to Benefit Healing Through Art Program

Author: Erin Thomson

Genesee Health System (GHS) has awarded a mini-grant of $41,000 to McLaren Flint Foundation for their focus area of health and wellness for vulnerable populations. The grant goes towards McLaren Flint’s Healing through Art program, which is an art therapy program that provides methods of coping to those impacted by cancer. The program is funded by Genesee County Community Mental Health Millage funds. McLaren Flint was one of 13 community organizations to receive a grant.

“When we asked the community for millage dollars to support mental health in our community, one of our promises was to give back and support the efforts of community grassroots efforts to reach populations we don’t currently serve, or who don’t normally seek out our services,” said Danis Russell, CEO of GHS. “We requested mini-grant submissions from the community to not only support their efforts but to help those in the community who need it most and may fall through the cracks in traditional services.

”Healing Through Art at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint is dedicated to addressing health and wellness for families within the Greater Flint cancer community (which is a vulnerable population) through the creative outlet of art therapy, which also includes suicide/crisis prevention and crisis stabilization.

“What is unique about Healing Through Art is that it is a free resource to anyone in the Genesee County community who has been affected by cancer, whether they or someone they care for have cancer, and regardless of where they receive medical treatment,” said Erin Simonetti, registered art therapist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint. “Our focus is to address the health and wellness of vulnerable populations by providing free mental health resources for those experiencing cancer, which in turn helps prevent suicide and crisis (as cancer patients are twice as likely to die by suicide). Art therapy provides a creative outlet for families touched by cancer to help process complex emotions and trauma associated with a diagnosis. We believe that providing therapeutic tools to our patients before they hit a mental crisis, is key in preventative care and supporting their overall wellness.”

Healing Through Art is an art therapy program, managed by a Registered Art Therapist, which provides a method of coping and self-expression for individuals touched by cancer (patients, caregivers, and family) that uses various forms of art to help the psychological and physiological side effects of a cancer diagnosis. Through this therapeutic outlet, participants may develop a non-verbal, visual vocabulary for expressing thoughts and experiences that are often difficult to express in words.

“Going through chemotherapy was a very difficult experience mentally and physically,” said Catherine Davids, an art therapy patient at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint. “Walking into an art therapy class where within 10 minutes I knew that every woman in that room, knew me and knew exactly what I was going through, made me feel at home. I was able to focus on the art project and the conversations around me. I had my mind off my cancer for the first time in months and it felt so good to be in this room full of artistic women. During the first session, I knew this was another piece of healing because when I walked out that day the sun was shining, and I was humming a tune. I knew the meaning of endurance.”

The goal of Healing Through Art is to improve health and promote emotional and physical healing by utilizing the creative visual art process as a therapeutic practice. The need for these services begins with the initial diagnosis, often extending well beyond the end of treatment, and addressing issues such as depression, anxiety, adjustment to treatment, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life concerns, and grief counseling. According to a study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, art therapy was shown to decrease pain, tiredness, lack of appetite, and shortness of breath, along with depression, anxiety, and drowsiness.

“I thank God for all my doctors and the bonus gift from God was art therapist Erin Simonetti and her art therapy classes,” said Davids. “The classes and the one-on-one counseling combined were other factors in saving my life. I began to replace the overwhelming sense of doom with a growing sense of gratitude and appreciation that was becoming truly joyful and not perfunctory. I have discovered that art projects take time and effort. You can lose yourself in creating instead of losing yourself in depression or falling apart. I have been able to have my work on exhibit and have recently won first place in a juried art exhibit. I am also currently preparing an assemblage for a gallery in Fenton. Art therapy has allowed me to become an artist and I have made lifelong friends through this program.”