The picture of good health

Having established their legitimacy and benefits in the East over centuries of practice, holistic therapies have taken off in this hemisphere in more recent decades. Such remedies include everything from talk therapy to gardening; and now, at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, art lessons are taking flight.

The classes began as part of the center’s occupational therapy initiative. Designed to equip Sandilands patients with employment and entrepreneurial skills, occupational therapies are one of the foremost methods of helping patients develop independence. They are particularly useful for stroke survivors, whose motor skills have been disrupted, preventing them from returning to their former occupations.

“Occupational therapy is one of the most essential components of rehabilitation, particularly mental health rehabilitation. One of the therapists’ goals is to ensure that persons are provided with skills, and in particular new skills, because sometimes mental illness can cause persons to become incapacitated in other areas. Art is one of the areas that we find is easy for most persons to develop some skills in,” explained Sandilands Public Relations Manager Betsy Duvalier.

Led by artist Malcolm Rae, known as “The Artist Malcolm”, the art lessons began after Duvalier put out a call for volunteers. She reached out to Rae’s Rotary club, where he offered himself as an art instructor.

“Being an artist, that is the only help I can give,” he said.

He developed an interest in discovering genuine talent among those who might have been otherwise unfamiliar with their abilities.

“Since childhood, most people have been creating art and most of them don’t know but that doesn’t matter. They’re creating it. That is why I’m doing it,” he explained.

Rae is a primarily self-taught multimedia artist, and is best known for his watercolor and pastel works of local landscape, people and the conch shell.

He began teaching weekly lessons in June. Through the classes, Rae has reached a number of Sandilands patients, largely because many of his students spend relatively short periods of time at the center. According to Duvalier, most of Sandilands’ clients are expected to return to independent or semi-independent living following treatment.

At each class, Rae can instruct as many as 15 patients, many of whom are unaccustomed to art lessons and art therapy. He starts with the basics.

“In the beginning, I tried to get them to work inside a border. I get them to put their names on their works. I’m trying to get them to be professional,” he explained. “I tell them there’s only a circle, a square and a triangle. Everything else can be drawn from those shapes.”

And while the lessons often have a slow start, students pick up the momentum, completing up to two paintings in one hour-long class.

According to Senior Occupational Therapist Sunitha Pati, the classes are having a positive effect on patients who are able to participate on a consistent basis.

“The clients have been more relaxed and have showed no anxiety. They try to freely express emotions and fears, and I see that they are able to socialize better,” she noted, adding, “I feel the lessons should be held at least three times a week.”

Pati believes the lessons have been well received among clients, who appreciate the reprieve the classes offer as well as the chance to develop talent, even in those who are art novices.

Rae’s efforts are also appreciated among Sandilands staff, who have been in search of avenues to give their clients exposure to skills development opportunities. The center is now broadening its call to other artists, artisans and skilled crafts people who are interested in contributing to Sandilands Occupational Therapy Department.

“We’re looking for artists, persons who do crotchet, persons who do music, because we have a choir, and we’d like a consistent musician. The aim is one day to eventually organize a band because we’ve found that music also plays a crucial role in helping persons’ mental development,” said Duvalier.

With these intentions, the center must now focus its energy on acquiring the necessary supplies for its growing occupational therapy plans. It is now accepting donations of arts and handicraft supplies.

Those interested in volunteering as a creative instructor or donating to support Sandilands’ growing Occupational Therapy Department are asked to contact Betsy Duvalier at 364-9618 or 357-8720.