Where health and creativity intersect

Being a doctor and a writer, it’s probably no surprise that I am interested in how two of my passions overlap.

There are clear links between creativity and wellness:
• The benefits of appreciating the creativity of others, how it makes us feel and what we can learn from it – art, music, photography, film and literature for example.
• Fulfilling your own need to be creative – be it one of the more traditional creative pursuits, or cooking a new dish, planting a garden bed or writing a Facebook post or tweet.
• The role of creative activities contributing to a range of benefits including to aid in learning and sharing of ideas, to reduce isolation, to foster companionship, to promote improved health and well-being, and even to reduce medication use and assist healing.


Photo by Mia Holton

There are comprehensive reviews of the literature which demonstrate the evidence, particularly those by:
• Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff (Arts in health: a review of the medical literature, Arts Council England, 2004);
• Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health.2010 February;100(2): 254–263.);
• Dr Patricia Fenner, Dr Bruce Rumbold, Dr Jean Rumbold et al (Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care? 19/6/2012) and
• Christine Putland (ARTS AND HEALTH – A GUIDE TO THE EVIDENCE Background document prepared for the Arts and Health Foundation Australia, September 2012).

So the science is there with more research underway.

Strangely enough the “mad artist” seems just as common a stereotype as the “mad scientist”. Perhaps this is more about the eccentricity that others perceive when someone follows their calling to the exclusion of other pursuits. Or maybe we are all a little mad?

Ironically some of the most creative people I have met have been the best adjusted and are often multi-talented.

The things that will benefit us the most are often the ones we most actively resist. If you think you are not creative, are you the one suppressing your creativity the most?

Some will struggle to get started, to even come up with a creative pursuit they would like to try. Just try. If at first you feel that you can’t, expose your creative self to the creativity of others. For example, you could check out an art gallery, the theatre or a concert or explore poetry, art or music online. If you have kids, do something crafty together. It’s okay to play with different ideas – have some fun. If you feel blocked, try something else.

Many of us will have to grapple with our internal critic, whether just starting out or well along the creative path. Doubt is normal. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter what the quality is. If you don’t try you will have nothing to show. Start something and see how it evolves over time.

We all know to be healthy, we need to exercise and eat well. But do we understand the role that creativity plays?

Being creative is healthy and it is healthy to be creative. Encourage creativity in ourselves and in others; from the cradle to grave, in our buildings and in open spaces, in students and in professionals.

It’s almost like a marriage vow: from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Does creativity matter to you?

What is your creative vow?

How you might make a change that promotes health and creativity ?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.


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© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)

14 thoughts on “Where health and creativity intersect

  1. Creativity matters a lot to me — I need it and the time and mental space for it, or I start to get twitchy. I didn’t realise I was a creative person, and I didn’t realise how frustrated I was. It wasn’t until I saw my creative children do the things I did as a child, that I thought I might be that way inclined, too. At first, still working and with small children and a busy husband, I could only snatch snippets of time, usually late at night when I really should have been in bed. Now, it’s how I fill my day. Not only has pursuing my creative instincts improved my mood, but that of the whole family.

    • What a wonderful insight Louise! I knew I was creative but was too busy… I love that you can share you didn’t even realise until well into your adult life… I strongly suspect our creative urges are suppressed from a young age be it by our own doing or how we respond to others… eg the prescriptive art teacher who wants you to produce THEIR piece of work not yours… the list of possibilities goes on… But what has so much power is the impact of “giving in” to your creativity! It’s not whimsical, selfish or indulgent… It’s a need, and following it is better not only for you but for your loved ones. My next blog will share more about my personal journey with creativity and I thank you for pre-empting that.

  2. I think that creativity can be like a repressed emotion: you’ve got to let it out, or your health will suffer. I’ve been putting a lot of intention behind “creating a more creative life,” and not only am I happier, but I’m more excited by the prospects of what the future may hold.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Laura! Excellent point about being excited by future prospects that being true to your creativity can unfold. I’ll explore my personal relationship to creativity more in my next post so I hope you’ll join me then too.

  3. Jacquie, creativity is the glue that holds me together. As my chronic illness progresses and my physical independence diminishes, my poetry and the poetry/prose of others is where I draw my inner strength.

    Late last year and early this year I presented a couple of writer’s workshops I’d put together titled, Expressive Writing in Chronic and Life Limiting Illness, to a group of psychologists and post grad students at a psycho oncology research unit at a Melbourne hospital. These were very successful. The psychologists turned up to learn how to present these for their patient’s benefit and found the safe writing environment personally beneficial. I was going to go on and work with patients in tandem with a psychologist but my own health has been challenging this year.

    I have my blog, which is my creative lifeline, I’m also a member of a Freefall writer’s group. We have been meeting at my home, once a month, for about 4 years. I don’t write to be published, I write for myself with the hope that my words may resonate with others. In this way I’m able to be authentic and not worry about what the ‘poetry police’ think. My health psychologist, with my permission, shares some of my poems with patients and students. I’m also part of a small group of fellow bloggers who have become dear friends. Sometimes we inspire each other, and wonderful, life giving discussions grow out of our shared poetry.

    I also love music, galleries, theatre. One of the most peace filled things I’ve ever experienced is doing calligraphy while listening to music. I’ve a niece who’s a sonographer who has decided to work 3 days a week and study painting on the other 2. She is so much happier since she made this decision, and is really growing as an artist. Her and her husband take me to the gallery and the theatre a couple of times a hear. We also love to share a meal and discuss our love of things creative. I wrote the lyrics to a song, a tribute to my husband, my nephew-in-law wrote the music and recorded it. It is very dear to me.

    My I have gone on. I hope this has been helpful. I look forward to your next post.
    Bye for now

    • Tricia how kind of you to share this with us. It sounds like embracing your creativity has enhanced life not only for you but those around you. Your workshops sound inspiring and hopefully your efforts will be continued by those you have taught. I’m a big fan of Freefall, having done a course with Barbara in the late 1990s – I knew I was called to write but needed the confidence the course gave me. Thanks for commenting – so affirming!

  4. Writing is my hobby. The time spent in crafting my words and putting together a structured writing piece allows me to clarify my argument and thoughts. Several years I was made redundant after a long drawn out and ugly restructure. It was only after writing several chapters of a satirical management book that I was able to look calm down. It’s libelous, and will probably never be published (not under my real name anyway) but it made me feel a lot better.

    • Wonderful that you could drop by Wendy and thanks for sharing your experiences. Indeed I think it is a wonderful way of processing what is happening (or has happened) and it sounds like you had some fun with it as well. I’m sure a lot of people would love to read it. I have also found the odd “never-to-be-sent letter” helpful to express things that i could never say in person and I have had to burn a couple to be sure they never inadvertently made their way to the recipient! Best wishes for your writing.

  5. Reblogged this on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer and commented:
    My head is still buzzing with creative ideas for health after my dotMED conference experience. Here’s a great new blog post by doctor and writer Jacquie Garton-Smith on the links between creativity and wellness.

  6. I feel so fortunate that my creative tendencies did not get quashed as a child. It could have easily happened but for some reason I hung on to them and followed them to study art at University and pursue art as a profession. Being creative is like breathing for me, I can’t do without it. Some days there is only time for a small thing but it’s something that keeps me connected to myself and grounded.

    • Ardys, you have raised such an important issue about the potential for creativity to be quashed in childhood – something I think happens all too often for all kinds of reasons. It is fabulous that wasn’t your experience. I loved your comment that “Being creative is like breathing for me”. I am sure this resonates for a lot of creatives and I wonder how many of those who have had their creativity quashed wouldn’t recognise that the need to be creative is intrinsic. Thought provoking!

  7. I have always loved creative writing. Actually I enjoy all different kids of creativity: visual arts, music, theatre, but writing comes most naturally to me. The demands of medical training forced me to shut-down my creative self: I just didn’t have time. What I’ve realised though is creativity is not a luxury item for me. It’s a necessity. When I have a creative outlet I feel grounded, complete, inspired. Creative thinking helps me to solve problems and find solution. My brain needs creativity to feel well balanced. At the start of the year I got back into my writing and I haven’t looked back. Writing is not-negotiable now. It’s a part of who I am.

    • Thanks for stopping by to read and comment, Sarah. Your story sounds very familiar! The demands of medicine can feel all-consuming, and it is all too easy to ignore our creative needs. But I think we are better doctors for allowing ourselves time to be creative, and I think the growing Medical Humanities field also recognises this. Write on!

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