By: Josh Garrett
Three men sit at a large conference table, making slow and methodical movements with paintbrushes against thick paper. A woman stands in the middle of the room, leading the men in a relaxed but animated conversation. She listens intently as each man speaks, facilitating the group’s verbal give-and-take and encouraging group members to find wisdom in each other’s words. The men take turns speaking, sometimes calmly and sometimes with a stronger tone and faster pace that connotes deep emotion. All the while, their hands continue to move across the papers in front of them, creating landscapes, portraits, and abstract shapes.
The Reflections Through Art (RTA) group met every Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the first floor conference room of Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center in Brooklyn, NY. The group, created by social work intern Robyn Pruzansky (who also facilitated the group) in February of last year, was a stimulating yet soothing way for patients to examine their own lives in a safe and supportive environment. “In my first few months interning at the nursing home, I had so many incredible one-on-one interactions with patients who shared their life stories with me,” Robyn said. “I wanted to create a space where patients could share in the same way with not just me, but their peers, as well.” During RTA group meetings, Robyn encouraged members to share and examine their own experiences and how those experiences help define who they are—a process referred to in social work as “life review.” In her work with individual patients, Robyn found that encouraging them to reflect upon life experiences with her gave them validation and a stronger sense of self. On another level, she found that facilitating reflection in a group setting built heartfelt friendships that could serve as the foundation of a larger social support network in the nursing home. Those benefits encourage patients to speak openly and honestly about the “here and now,” Robyn explained. “By sharing the life review experience, members found common ground with each other that created a sense of cohesion and trust within the group,” she said. “As the patients felt more comfortable in the group setting, they were more willing to express their deeper feelings in a therapeutic way.”
As for the artistic aspect of the group, Robyn sees it as something of an added bonus. “The painting that goes on at RTA is mostly a facilitator of discussion—as the patients work creatively with their hands, their minds and hearts open,” she said. Robyn acknowledges that some group members showed great artistic talent in RTA, but as a social worker, she is more interested in how patients’ painting can help them become happier, healthier residents of the nursing home and citizens of the world.
“It has been so rewarding for me to witness group members benefiting from the discussions that take place during RTA,” she said, adding with a smile, “When one of the regular attendees told me that the group gave him something to look forward to every week, I knew that RTA was a success.”
Josh Garrett is a journalist, writer, and editor residing in New York City.
Robyn Pruzansky is currently interning at Metropolitan Center for Mental Health for her second-year field placement. She will graduate in May 2010 with her MSW from New York University’s Silver School of Social Work.
This article is from the Spring 2010 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. Copyright 2010 White Hat Communications. All rights reserved.