Thrive by IU Health

October 31, 2022

No words needed: neurology patients express themselves in a whole new way

IU Health Neuroscience Center

No words needed: neurology patients express themselves in a whole new way

Art is about so much more than painting or sculpting or drawing—it’s about self-expression, according to Ashley Hildenbrand M.A., ATR-BC, director of the art therapy program at the IU Health Neuroscience Center.

That’s because many of the patients she cares for experience challenges with communication or are socially isolated due to neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, stroke and traumatic brain injury.

To help patients struggling with their diagnoses and recovery, the art therapy program provides a safe outlet for patients to express themselves and process their complex feelings

“It's amazing to see what people can say without words,” Hildenbrand said.

Patient artwork

Hildenbrand leads a team of three masters-level psychotherapists—each of whom specialize in art therapy—to personalize every patient’s program experience based on their individual diagnosis and needs.

Some may paint or draw, while others may do collage or work with clay. The appropriate medium is selected by the art therapist to support each patient’s unique treatment goals, which may include the development of social and emotional communication skills, coping strategies to manage physical and emotional distress or to find fulfillment in their current stage of life.

“No two journeys look the same,” Hildenbrand said, “but with every patient, our goal is always the same: to improve their quality of life.”

Currently, the program can support offering art therapy to 30 patients at a time—but it has become so successful that there is a waitlist of nearly 50 patients. The program needs philanthropic support to grow and extend its free-of-charge services.

With the aid and support of philanthropy, "we would be able to knock out the waitlist altogether and make our services more accessible,” Hildenbrand said.

Mural created by patients with Parkinson's disease

Donor dollars are also needed to fund art supplies—including paint brushes and paints, pencils, canvases, paper and more.

To give patients a voice, please consider a donation in support of the art therapy program at the IU Health Neuroscience Center. For more information, please contact IU Health Foundation Development Officer Jeffrey Roth, MA, CFRE.