Depression, stress… Belgian psychiatrists prescribe visits to museums

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Depression, stress... Belgian psychiatrists prescribe visits to museums

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    Go to the museum to heal? The idea may come as a surprise, but more and more psychiatrists are prescribing this new means of treatment to their patients.

    In Brussels, mental health professionals can now advise their patients suffering from depression, anxiety or stress to go to the museum, for therapeutic purposes. If you don’t want to see a psychiatrist now, why not go to a museum to get better?

    A Belgian study on “museotherapy”

    For six months, this pilot project allows psychiatrists from the Brugmann hospital to send their patients to one of the many museums in the Belgian capital. These museum prescriptions give them the opportunity to go and enjoy an exhibition free of charge with a few friends and members of their family. In particular, they can go to the fashion and lace museum, the sewer museum, the Garde Robe Manneken Pis museum or the Centrale for contemporary art.

    This initiative is inspired by a program launched in 2018 by the association Médecins francophones du Canada. It allowed its thousands of member physicians to send their patients suffering from depression, diabetes or chronic illnesses to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts free of charge. It has since spawned similar initiatives in Switzerland and France.

    The Belgian pilot project seeks to assess the impact of cultural institutions on mental health and well-being. The scientific community already agrees on the multiple therapeutic virtues of art and, by extension, of “museotherapy”. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have recently discovered that contact with works of art contributes to a considerable reduction in anxiety and stress.

    The Many Benefits of Cultural Therapies

    Museum visits have also been proven to prevent and manage behavioral and psychological symptoms related to dementia. A team of Australian and South African researchers has discovered that these cultural therapies can improve the cognitive functions of people suffering from dementia.

    One thing is certain: going to the museum is good for your health. This activity has many virtues. Indeed, it soothes chronic pain and suffering, while fighting against the isolation of the most vulnerable people. “Anything can have therapeutic value if it helps people feel good and get in touch with themselves”Dr Johan Newell, a psychiatrist at Brugmann University Hospital, told the Guardian.

    [Les visites de musée sur ordonnance] are just an additional tool that could help people get out of their homes: socialize again and reconnect with society“, added Dr. Newell.

    In addition, Delphine Houba, deputy mayor of Brussels in charge of culture, also sees in this initiative a way of strengthening access to culture.

    We know that, even before the Covid, it was not easy for some people to push the door of a museum, they don’t feel comfortable, they don’t think it’s for them. And I really want to show that cultural places are for everyone“, as she had explained to The Observer.

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