By Caitlin Geiger
It doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional classroom setting, and its students receive far more than a typical educational experience.
In Dr. Diane Dembicki’s Healing and the Arts course, housed under the School of Nursing, each class focuses on a different approach to healing therapies, spanning from expressive and visual arts and drama therapy to dance and music therapy. “It looks at various therapies in healthcare,” Dr. Dembicki says. “It is an interdisciplinary approach that allows faculty from the Departments of Art and Art History, Music and Psychology to work with the School of Nursing in a unique manner.”
A popular selection among students from all areas of study, Healing and the Arts provides a welcomed break from the typical lecture class or lab. The course teaches basic relaxation and meditation techniques one day, and the next, students are invited to create street and graffiti art. Often students discover hidden interests that they decide to pursue after the course concludes. “I’ve had a few students say they were going to explore a minor or major in the arts or music therapy,” Dr. Dembicki says.
A recent healing demonstration brought Darlington Great Pyrenees to the classroom, displaying how these therapeutic dogs reduce stress and provide some relief to patients. Susie Wong trained, raised and specialized in Great Pyrenees for more than 20 years, bringing the canines to North Shore-Long Island Jewish University Hospital two to three times a week. “Going into the hospital and meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life, it’s just incredible,” Ms. Wong says.
Spring 2012 marked the third straight semester that Dr. Dembicki hosted Ms. Wong and the therapy dogs, and the crowd of spectators exceeded the class roster, proving the popularity of the course and its offerings. But Dr. Dembicki finds students are more hesitant at the beginning of the semester. “The very first couple of classes, students unbearably say ‘I’m no artist’ or ‘I don’t know how to draw’ and I ban those statements from class,” she says. With a strong emphasis on creative expression, participation is a large part of the grade.
Dr. Dembicki says the course serves as “a real de-stressor,” particularly for the nursing students—a factor in the course’s popularity. Dr. Dembicki calls it “a ripple effect of healing.”