HSAD valedictorian Amy Black shares a laugh with George Gillespie second board vice chair of Fleming College. /OLIVIA ROBINSON Staff

Using art for rehabilitation

After teaching visual art for more than 30 years Marta Scythes is now hoping to use the medium to help stroke patients’ physical therapy.

A part-time instructor at Fleming College’s Haliburton School of Art and Design (HSAD) Scythes just completed a master’s in strategic foresight and innovation from Toronto’s OCAD University this month her second graduate degree to go along with a bachelor’s of science from Queen’s and a diploma in visual art instructing from Seneca College. Her thesis researched the use of visual art for the longterm rehabilitation of stroke patients. Now she’s hoping to spend the summer further developing a clinical trial based off of her work.

Scythes has been teaching various drawing and painting certificate courses at HSAD since 1981 (she also teaches at St. Lawrence College in Kingston where she spends the half of the year she’s not living in her Blairhampton home). Scythes says it was her students over the years who inspired her latest research project.

“I noticed that people were coming to try and get their physical their hand-eye co-ordination back. Their physical skills back” Scythes says. “That’s what inspired it the people who came into my classes.”

Art therapy is a common form of psychotherapy using images colours and shape as a creative outlet; stabilizing moods making people feel better and providing a space to express thoughts and feelings.

But Scythes is looking to differentiate her research from the mental benefits art can have on recovery instead focusing on how the movements and motions of painting and drawing can improve physical rehabilitation of the upper limbs.

“What I’m doing is novel. It’s not been done” she says. “I’ve found out in my research that some physiotherapists and occupational therapists use painting and drawing. So it’s used but it’s not been measured.”

For the past year and a half Scythes has been volunteering at the Providence Care hospital in Kingston. It was there in December that she presented a rough prototype of what her clinical trial would look like. After the presentation she was told to finish her master’s and then come back to them with the project.

“If that clinical trial happens…it’s totally feasible to do because it’s low cost. It’s just art” Scythes says. “The cost is people and some art supplies.”

Although it’s only in its infancy the current prototype of the trial would have approximately 10 patients doing intensive physical art every day over eight weeks. Scythes envisions visitors and family members being keen to participate with the patients in their therapy.

Scythes began her master’s at OCAD with the idea for the trial but says her degree and two years of studies helped her enhance and develop her research.

“I went with the intent of how to make it so that everyone that’s had a brain injury or stroke has the opportunity to go to an art course without necessarily paying” she says. “It was the right program for me at OCAD because it enabled me to use everything I learned there and design a project.”

While teaching at HSAD this summer Scythes hopes that she can organize some more meetings with Providence and work with the hospital on further designing the trial.

According to Scythes teaching at HSAD has not only inspired her current research but has helped her with all the projects she’s worked on over the past 36 years. “The more you teach the more you learn from what everyone else does” she says. “[The students] have got their own creativity in them and they interpret it their way. I’m always learning from the students.”