For the Mo.Co. of Contemporary Art Center in the city, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital, there is a common conviction that there is “an urgent need to raise public awareness of the benefits of artistic commitment to mental health”, according to Professor Philippe Courtet of the University Hospital Center in Montpellier.
Beneath the lofty roof of an old pharmacy college converted into a center for contemporary art in the coastal city of Montpellier in southern France, Andre, Kevin and Amber learn to make pottery under the watchful eyes of an artist. The three are sent by their doctor to take part in an experimental program that uses art as a means of psychotherapy.
These three patients differ in age and life course, but they share the same episodes of depression or anxiety, and they are followed up by the Department of Psychiatric Emergency and Post-Emergency at Montpellier University Hospital.
These three were not particularly interested in the arts in the past, but they followed the steps required of them in full as part of this unusual treatment that lasts a few weeks under the title “Art with a prescription”.
For the city’s Contemporary Art Center Mo.Co and the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital, there is a shared conviction that there is “an urgent need to raise public awareness of the benefits of artistic commitment on mental health”, says Professor Philippe Courtier of University Hospital Center of Montpellier.
This unprecedented project in France, inspired by previous experiences in Belgium, Canada and the UK, has one ambition, “to get patients out of the hospital by prescribing art to them”, according to Courtier.
“This liberates us powerfully,” says student Amber Castiel, 17, with a smile on her face, as she pours paraffin into a clay mold. “When I am here, I feel that everything that could bother me dissipates,” she adds.
As for Kevin Genest, 23, he points out that his “natural anxiety fades away” and says, “Psychologists can be consulted, but the best thing is to do manual work, to get out what’s inside of myself,” expressing his pleasure in meeting “people with the same problems.” And expressing his willingness to “go to the museum more often.”
“It’s a workshop about soft, flexible materials, which deform and transition from a solid to a liquid state, when they come in contact with the hand, allowing for an engaging experiment,” explains visual artist Susie Lelliver.
In addition to them, Andre Brosseau, 60, is pleased this time to “improve” his way of using his hands, “after he began last year to learn the principles of physical expression, under the supervision of dancer Anne Lopez.
“Dance has given me the art of integrating into a group, which was not easy at first, as well as more confidence in the way I express myself, to move myself,” Brosseau says.
“Here, it is not the artists who go to the patients, but the patients who go to the museum, meet the artists and enter their world,” confirms Elodie Michel, an expert in psychiatry at Montpellier University Hospital.
In 2022, this program included three groups of about ten patients. This includes month-long art trips, exhibition visits and workshops to learn artistic practices.
At each session, they were accompanied by a fine arts student and a psychiatry trainee, in particular responsible for the scientific evaluation of the project.
This experience is completely free for participants, funded by the MOCO Technical Center, the Regional Health Agency and the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs, as well as the city of Montpellier, which has the oldest still-service medical school in the world.
“We hope that this program will be extended to everyone and that it will be possible to pay for it through Social Security,” says Numa Ambursen, director of the MOCO Art Center, stressing that in Canada, attending physicians can prescribe up to 50 museum visits per day. year for their patients.