Meagan Washington

Posted on November 13, 2014 · Posted in Event Summaries

The Speakers: Richard J. Jackson, M.D, M.P.H. Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Health at Roosevelt House; Chris Adrian, M.D Columbia University Medical Center’s Program in Narrative Medicine; and Alan Schlechter, M.D Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at Bellevue Hospital Center.

Each panelist was  prompted to reflect on their experience as medical practitioners, and how their work experience allows them unique insights into the human condition, specifically regarding fulfillment and contentment. (2:22) The moderator posed two questions to the panelist, “What happens between childhood and adulthood?” (3:01) and “Why are such few adults creative?” (3:11) The moderator admits she used to sing as a child until someone told her she had a terrible voice.  She never sang again.

Dr. Alan Schlechter asserts, “everyone sang” for enjoyment in their early development. He asserts that it’s the “professionalization of everything” that has imposed external pressures on people minimizing, or even extinguishing creative expression. The panelist also points to “pressures,” whether internal (the self) or external (the world), for stifling creativity.

Dr. Richard Jackson, who hosted a PBS series “Designing Healthy Communities,” believes we are being manipulated by consumer  culture. “We live in this waterfall of advertisements, we’re endlessly manipulated by images of beauty, images of happiness of completeness.” (44:47)

Panelist shared personal anecdotes to illustrate the   pressure they felt in their formative years and how it affected their creative process. Growing up in a family of seven “there was no money and the entertainment was to tell stories” (6:00) Dr. Jackson reveals that in medical school “nobody wanted to hear any of my stories…it was so sterilized that I felt like the aberrant personality.” For Dr. Chris Adrian when he “started to become aware of what a terrible, sad place the world was” (6:14) he felt “it was no longer appropriate to choreograph… for the sheer joy of it.” Each examples speaks to Dr. Alan Schlechter’s assertion regarding the professionalization of culture.

The discussion progressed into a debate on the pressures of capitalism. “One explanation may lie in [the fact that] ordinary artistic activity has no monetary value,” the moderator said, “children are not expected to make money but adults are.” (16:22)

“Children are really smart” Dr. Schlechter asserts. Once the child is in school, “we’re constantly devaluing it,” says Dr. Schlechter “you say art class is really important, you don’t get graded in it, you get graded in all these other things and this is what is going to determine where you go to college.” (17:00)

Parents now compete to get their children into the best kindergarten classes. Dr. Richard Jackson suggests, “Capitalism may have reached all the way to the diaper.” (16:33)

“Schools both public and private encourage children to express themselves.” (2:54) said the moderator. Dr. Schlechter cites St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn as a school that places art on the same plane as other subjects and a college in New Hampshire that got rid of grades entirely. Dr. Chris Adrian explained that his course on Narrative Medicine at Columbia University surprises his students “when the school says it’s part of your medical training learn how to explore your creativity.” (8:55)

Art in the Medical Field

The moderator asked the panel, “What is the connection between creative engagement and emotional well-being?” (20:20)

Throughout decades hospitals have changed the art on the walls to assist and treat patients’ anxieties. From bare walls to cartoon figures to nature garden rooms, hospitals have paid particular attention to  interior design.  “ “The nature garden rooms, the animal features were the ones that gave the children the most comfort.” Dr. Jackson asserted. (11:50)

After receiving the first half of his training as a child psychologist, Dr. Schlechter admits “I didn’t know how to talk about wellness and well-being and strength and finding the spark in kids.” (23:31) Working with a sexually abused teenager helped Dr. Schlechter see that “the goal of treating a trauma is you develop a narrative – they write,” he says, “80-85% of people who really commit and engage in CFCBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] get better.” (37:52)

“We need creativity, yes to fulfill our souls, but I think we need creativity to escape the traumas in our lives” Dr. Jackson remarks. (34:11) “You don’t heal in the sense of a cut,” says Dr. Schlechter referring to the idea of “posttraumatic growth.” (36:38)

As a professor of creative writing, Dr. Adrian and his students are always “wrestling with the bad Elmo” the idea that “I feel completely out of control but it’s totally ok.” He mentioned his book Gob’s Grief about the Civil War dead being brought back to life, in an response to losing his brother at a young age. “The things that drove my fiction I can look at as acts of representation directly related to the traumas” (41:13)

The evening’s discussion ended with a Q&A segment for the audience to further explore the panelists’ viewpoints on creativity. (55:10)

    WATCH THE VIDEO – Arts Across the Curriculum: The Science of Happiness

Meagan Washington is a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Hunter College.

The writing and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute or Hunter College.