We take care of mental health in the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola: Workshop of artistic therapy

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Lourdes Lopetegui

It is now one year since the edition in the Museu Nacional of the course, Introduction to Arts in Health. Creation and management of programmes in mental health: anxiety and depression disorders, aimed at professionals of culture and health. Lourdes Lopetegui, psychologist, attended and explained the experience of organising an activity in the Museu d’ Art de Cerdanyola for a group of people affected by anxiety and agoraphobia.  The experiences turned out to be very fruitful.

Anxiety and depression, very present in today’s society

The percentage of the population over 15 years old with problems of anxiety and depression is 12.2% in men and 20.8% in women according to a survey published by the Department of Health of the Generalitat Catalunya in 2015.

Anxiety is the first symptom when faced with any stressing situation of life, due both to family causes, as well as labour, personal, social, those derived from economic factors and many other everyday circumstances that affect all of us. 

An anxiety crisis and agoraphobia can emerge within the context of different disorders of anxiety, habitually accompanied by fear and intense discomfort.  There are various symptoms: palpitations, elevated heart rate, sweating, feeling of shortness of breath, feeling of choking, tightness or chest discomfort, nausea, abdominal discomfort, instability, dizziness, feeling of lack of control, fear of dying, paraesthesia (feeling of “pins and needles”), hot flashes and chills, among others.

The World Health Organization recognizes that the mental disorders are increasing in all the countries and recommends investing in mental health treatments, given that the performance of 400% clearly surpasses the costs that is supposes.

Group session at the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola

Since 2015, in the Centre of Mental Health of Adults of Cerdanyola-Ripollet a group psychotherapeutic approach has been carried out to treat anxiety and agoraphobia. This is a non-management group, made up of about 10-12 people and the group’s leader, held on a weekly basis. In the sessions, a space is dedicated to group psychotherapy and the concerns and difficulties in the day-to-day life of group members are tackled so as to work on different aspects depending on the individual and group needs. They are given a structured programme for the daily practice of the mindfulness and the group is oriented so that they carry out activities in touch with nature.  Nature and physical activity are beneficial for the improvement of anxiety. 

Art and therapeutic treatment in Catalonia

We now want to introduce art as one more resource in the therapeutic plan, given that it can contribute positively to the health needs of society.  “The health of the citizens doesn’t only depend on the different centres and healthcare resources that make up the health network, but of the mobilization of different community assets that, conveniently coordinated and aligned with the formal healthcare activity, can have a positive impact on the binomial health/illness, both individual and collective” (Guillem de Efak, 2018).

To provide integral healthcare we need to collaborate with cultural agents and to generate resources for developing creativity with new Visual Thinking Strategies, how to look, to think and to communicate through art. 

The Network of Art Museums of Catalonia’s priority is to introduce art in health and make a social shift by opening up museums to the entire population. This innovative and multi-disciplinary initiative anticipates the future needs of society.


Several investigations carried out in collaboration with health professionals, university researchers and professionals from community organizations, in countries such as Canada, Holland or the United Kingdom, demonstrate the benefits that culture and art bring to health.

In Catalonia it is worth highlighting initiatives such as the  Alzheimer Programme in the CCCB or Estimul’Art, which is carried out by the Fundación ACE together with the Museo Marès, the Museu d’Història of Barcelona among others, or the project of the Museu Nacional with the Maternity Hospital of Vall d’Hebron, Art in the hospital, so as to make the space more pleasant and to improve the emotional well-being of the hospitalized children and adolescents.

Art in the hospital. A project between Museu Nacional and Hospital of Vall d’Hebron

Art is an opportunity for people who suffer from anxiety due to the emotional benefits that the contemplation of previously chosen works can bring and the possibility of connecting with serenity, equilibrium, tranquility, beauty and interior peace.

The museum provides the opportunity to tackle the internal world of the people through artistic language transcending words.  Just one image can suggest a multitude of emotions, experiences, and ideas and reach places where the word doesn’t manage to be expressed. The museum is also a socializing place where it is proposed that the participants share experiences in a respectful environment, stimulating the imagination, creativity and thinking in other ways of facing their difficulties or problems.  The aim is to improve the self-esteem and confidence in oneself and to feel the strength of the group to change towards healthier habits

The work with patients with anxiety in the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola

For 2019, thanks to the collaboration between the Centre of Mental Health of Adults and the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola (MAC) we have proposed introducing art as a therapeutic tool and the museum as a normalizing community space, following the model which is applied in the Musée des beaux-arts of Montreal.

Group session at the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola

The main aim is to reduce the anxiety of the participants, producing changes in their moods and connecting with their own personal resources. The group acts likes a changing emotional experience, in the subjective position and in the external relations.

Other goals of the therapeutic group in the museum:

  • To combine, exchange and dialogue, creating ties and learning to connect to the emotions.
  • To foster the expressive character through art.
  • To work on complex emotions such as anger, rage, grief, affliction and personal acceptance.
  • To promote the practice of pleasant activities and the inclusion of these in their routines. To avoid isolation.
  • To offer strategies of suitable confrontation in the new realities that allow them to move on.
  • To improve their self-esteem by means of connecting with their skills.
  • To reduce the experience of illness and stigma by working in a normalized and recognized social environment.

The group therapeutic activity in the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

In the first part of the activity we adapt the model of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) that are used in other countries with very satisfactory results.  The VTS are based on the emotional and cognitive changes that an artwork can produce. This takes the form of contemplating a certain previously chosen work and to look at it with full consciousness for 20 minutes: appreciating its beauty, the colour, the symmetry, the complexity and to feel the aesthetic pleasure that it generates.  The VTS works around three questions:

– What’s happening in the image?
– What can you see that makes you say this?
– What else can we find in this work?

The work chosen for the VTS was Las Damas de Cerdanyola, a classic work of Catalan modernism, which represents six women surrounded by nature. Two women rock in a gentle way, two others throw peonies to the swans from a boat and the latter ones collect flowers by the water. It is an image that conveys relaxation, placidity, and fun

The participants let their thoughts come out and are present in the here and now. This exercise enables communication between the participants. They enjoy the experience of discovery and they feel good, taken care of and in a better mood.

Working on the full awareness of the senses

The museum offers its facilities and its works to work on full awareness and concentration, which helps reduce anxiety. The aim is to become aware of the senses and the experience they bring us through visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory stimuli.

Sensorial room of the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola

This is about turning the experience of the observation experienced into a positive anchor, which evokes pleasant emotions, smiles, a feeling of empowerment and reinforces one’s confidence. This anchoring can be evoked in any anxious situation to manage to return to the state of relaxation, peace and security felt during the activity.

The activity ends with an hour-long group psychotherapy session.
To evaluate the effect of the activity and the magnitude of the change in the participants, they themselves assess their mood before carrying out the activity and once it has been carried out.

Total success of the artistic therapy

This first experience of taking a group of people affected by anxiety crisis and agoraphobia to the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola applying the learning from the course Arts in Health, was a resounding success. The participants were excited and highly rated the session held in front of the artwork. I am grateful for the collaboration of the Museu de Cerdanyola, especially its director Txema Romero, who did a great job with the group during the activity.   

Course Arts in Health at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

We will now try to repeat and perhaps apply it to other groups, such as pregnant women or even in the post-birth period: mothers with their babies. For this I will have to achieve the fact that the midwives who lead these groups are also willing to take on new experiences.  There’s still a long way to go…

Recommended links

Arts and health: challenges and opportunities

We fill the children’s hospital with colours

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Education and Art Therapy

Visual Thinking Strategies: looking, thinking and communicating through art

Not all the spoons are the same

Lourdes Lopetegui
CSM Cerdanyola-Ripollet-Montcada. Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu
Z_ Guest blogger

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