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Holistic Health Care and Neuro-Art Therapy

  • American Society of Clinical Pathologists


Holistic art therapy and Del Giacco's Neuro-Art Therapy techniques, especially applied to young adults with disabilities.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
Holistic Health Care and Del Giacco’s Neuro-Art Therapy
Suzanne L. Adams
Del Giacco’s Creative Arts Therapy, PLLC
Holistic Health Care and DAT
Defining Holistic Health Care
Holistic health care involves the use of modalities that encompass the body, mind, and
spirit as one unit. “First do no harm” as quoted by Hippocrates is a common thread that runs
through all of the practices within this broad alternative health care field. No one part of the
body is treated separately, contrary to traditional allopathic medicine, as this practice is viewed
as a threat to the entire body system due to a potential harmful reaction of an alienated part. The
width and breadth of holistic modalities are vast and include expressive therapies involving art,
movement, dance, music, horticulture, writing, drama, and poetry. Meditation, yoga, psycho-
social counseling, guided imagery, positive affirmations, aroma therapy, massage therapy, as
well as nutrition and wellness coaching and consultation embrace the domain as well. These
therapies are highly selective, depending on individual client needs, and in recent years are more
frequently being used to compliment typical medical treatments to enhance positive outcomes.
Parallels of Del Giacco’s Neuro-Art Therapy and Holistic Health Care
Although Del Giacco’s Neuro-Art Therapy (DAT) focuses primarily on improving the
cognitive and emotional function of the client, it also concerns itself with the overall well-being
of the individual, including physical and psycho-social aspects. This eclectic approach to healing
is highly consistent with that of holistic health care. However, DAT is unique in that it has
developed a keen sensitivity to “neuro-distress” (a term coined by DAT that describes a
condition where an abrupt breakdown of sensory processing and cognitive function results and
that will be discussed later in more detail). This condition may occur quite frequently in clients
with brain damage or mental disorders, and it can often be misunderstood and not tolerated by
the untrained caregiver or teacher. As with holistic health care, profound empathy for and
Holistic Health Care and DAT
understanding of the clients’ disabilities are of paramount important, and referral to additional
specialists for further evaluation and treatment, including medications, is always considered.
Holistic health care practitioners with strong combined backgrounds in biological
science, psychology, and art, can more easily understand and appreciate the concepts and
benefits of Del Giacco’s Neuro-Art Therapy. Its foundation is based upon sound science that
focuses primarily on strengthening the client’s sensory decoding and perceptual abilities to
improve cognitive and emotional function. The goal is to promote neuronal cell health (eg:
increased neurotransmitter production and synaptic activity), and nerve pathway regeneration.
To instigate this process, the Del Giacco Neuro-Art Therapist interacts with the client using the
Therapeutic Drawing Series (TDS). The TDS is developmental and employs the use of line,
color, and design. As the client progresses, two more applications of the DAT process are added
to the clients’ sessions. They are: (1). Computer Exercises and (2). The Cognitive Range of
Motion Exercises (CRM’s). All three of these applications use the same elements; visual spatial
relationships, imagery formation, and memory. They are all developmental in application. “The
idea is to rebuild the decoding mechanisms (initial sensory processing of shapes) of the brain to
help the client understand the very basics of cognition” (Del Giacco, example report).
Proper nutrition is also integrated into the DAT formula for success. Understanding the
significance of nutrition and monitoring for deficiency states is rare in most current health care
practices. Nutrition considerations are not within the domain of traditional art therapy, and are
only superficially regarded in occupational therapy, speech pathology, physical therapy,
psychology, nursing, special education, and most allopathic medical practices. However, they are
strongly regarded in holistic health care, particularly in the fields of wellness and nutrition
coaching, athletic training, chiropractic care, and massage therapy. This is especially true since
Holistic Health Care and DAT
the huge insurgence of poor quality fast food in our society, with obesity and diabetes resulting
to say the least. Like the holistic health care practitioner, the DAT therapist encourages good
nutrition practices, including the increased consumption of particular foods high in certain
micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids) that are required for
optimal brain and nervous system function. Foods that are recommended include protein sources
such as tuna, chicken, and cheese which are high in the amino acid, tryptophan. Others include
sources that are high in the B vitamin, choline, such as eggs, beef liver, and fish (Graccio 1997
p50-53). These foods are also high in other B vitamins as well such as folic acid, B12, and B6,
and also the essential fatty acids and zinc. In addition, colorful fruits and vegetables high in folic
acid and the antioxidants are also appreciated. Any significant signs of nutrient deficiencies in
clients are noted and reported if necessary to appropriate health care professionals for further
evaluation by a registered dietitian or nutritionist.
In my research on micronutrients, I have found folic acid, vitamin B12, and zinc to be
very much involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and brain function. Folic acid and B12
have fundamental functions in the nervous system beginning at conception and following
through with the closure of the neural tube at the fourth week of gestation (Northrup, 2000), and
then continuing with proper formation and maintenance of the brain, spinal cord, and nerve cells
throughout life. Both are required for the synthesis of the protective myelin sheath formed by
glia cells (oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system or Schwann cells in the peripheral
nervous system) whose long arms wrap around axons of nerve fibers allowing nerve impulses to
be transmitted (through the nodes of Ranvier) at phenomenal speeds compared to unmyelinated
ones (Adams, 2007). Folic acid enzymes are particularly concentrated in the central nervous
system (CNS) where they help methylate long chain fatty acids and phospholipids to make the
Holistic Health Care and DAT
important neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine via SAM (S-adenosylmethionine), the
main methyl donor of the CNS. These neurotransmitters help regulate brain function, such as
mood, sleep, and appetite (Bottiglieri, 2000). When SAM is deficient, mental depression,
cognitive impairment, and neurodegenerative disorders may result (Parry, 1994). The B vitamins
are essential for neuronal synaptic activity and neurotransmitter production (Feng, 2006, de Lau,
2007). Zinc is also crucial for proper brain development and maintenance. It binds to and
protects the structure of key DNA molecules called transcription factors, such as p53 which
causes the expression of specific genes involved in the embryonic development of the brain
cortex (Johnson S, 2001). Neurons and glial cells, which function in synaptic neurotransmission,
have high concentrations of zinc, as do the synaptic vesicles, boutons, and mossy fibers of the
hippocampus, the area associated with memory (Takeda A, 2000, Frederickson CJ, 2000,
Eichenbaum H, 1996). Serotonin, a neurohormone that mediates neurotransmission, requires zinc
for its synthesis. Serotonin is also necessary for the production of melatonin, another
neurohormone that regulates sleep, mood, puberty, as well as ovarian cycles (Johnson S, 2001).
Because zinc helps metabolize neurotransmitters as well as fatty acids, prostaglandins, and
melatonin, and also indirectly affects dopamine metabolism, a deficiency has been implicated as
a cause of many brain disorders, including ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and
schizophrenia (Arnold LE, 2000). Disorders in zinc metabolism may create an imbalance in zinc-
brain homeostasis, and result in learning impairment and seizures, as well as neuronal
degeneration from oxidative damage (Takeda A, 2000, Penland JG, 2000).
Proper daily rest and sleep are also emphasized as the DAT therapist understands how the
brain requires recharging after expenditure of energy receiving and processing sensory
information during waking hours. During sleep and rest periods when the brain is less active,
Holistic Health Care and DAT
neurons are able to refuel themselves with key micronutrients (eg: folic acid and zinc) that
participate in the synthesis of neurotransmitters (Bottiglieri, 2000). Without proper sleep (which
is usually considered eight hours for a normal brain and possibly more for one that has
experienced damage) neuro-distress is more likely to occur. Furthermore, DAT sessions are
designed to increase synaptic activity of neurons, so brain fatigue is more likely to occur when
clients are actively involved in a DAT program. The DAT client, in particular, may experience
more episodes of neuro-distress if proper sleep and rest are not obtained on a regular basis.
Optimal rest is vital for a successful DAT program, and the DAT therapist understands and
appreciates this component that is also part of the holistic health care paradigm.
Meditation and relaxation techniques to “warm up” and “cool down” clients before and
after therapy sessions are employed in the DAT protocol as well. Warming up is necessary
because many clients have come from a stressful event (eg: car or bus ride) or environment (eg:
group home, foster care, family situation, etc.) and need to relax and focus in order to be
prepared for the disciplined DAT exercises. Cooling down is also necessary in order for the
client to help assimilate the DAT material presented, and to prepare him for his departure and
next physical destination. It is important that the DAT session begin and end on a positive note.
Holistic art therapy projects, such as clay sculpture and abstract paintings, are also used in DAT
to relax and focus clients, and improve self-esteem as well. The use of expressive therapies such
as dance, music, poetry, creative writing, guided imagery, drama, sand play, yoga, etc., whether
structured or not, can be added to enhance the DAT process if appropriately administered.
Holistic health care and DAT share many common principles and code of ethics. Both
believe in the gentle and selective application of a variety of non-invasive techniques chosen at
the discretion of the therapist as well as the client to achieve positive outcomes. However, both
Holistic Health Care and DAT
are uniquely alternative to the established protocols for improving mental function within our
present health care system, and therefore they will require the test of time along with double-
blind, placebo-controlled studies to prove their worth to this powerful bureaucracy. Recognition
and appreciation of DAT is positioned well to flourish within the growing branch of “alternative”
or holistic health care. Integration of its processes within a holistic health care practice can be
easily envisioned.
The DAT Specific Approach to Healing
DAT’s non-invasive, holistic (multifaceted), client-centered approach to healing focuses
on “rebuilding” of the injured brain and its neuronal pathways. Clients who may benefit from it
include those who have suffered brain damage from strokes, accidents, and tumors, and others
with various developmental and degenerative cognitive disorders such as mental retardation,
autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.
DAT is not stagnant, but dynamic, as it examines both conventional and innovative
scientific knowledge regarding the structure and function of the brain and visual system, and
adds to its foundational base when justified. Emphasis is placed on understanding the primitive
limbic system within the center of the brain which is intimately involved in receiving,
interpreting, and sorting sensory stimulation, and processing emotions and memory. New
scientific and psychological information pertaining to specific areas of the limbic system, such as
the hippocampus (memory area and primary place of shape interpretation), amygdala (fear area),
and thalamus (interpretive area) are of particular interest to the DAT practitioner. The DAT
therapist strives to be extremely aware and conversant regarding the field of neurology, including
medical disorders and cognitive and emotional function involving the brain and visual system, in
Holistic Health Care and DAT
order to be more profoundly sensitive to client disabilities, limitations, needs, and capabilities. It
is of paramount importance for the DAT therapist to have extreme patience, and to understand
when a client is experiencing “neuro-distress” or a shut down of “top down” (cognitive)
function. Because of this, the client may go into the “fight or flight” syndrome. Neuro-Distress
may become very dangerous, and it involves a group of characteristic features which include
glassy eyes, little or no eye contact, extreme head movements, flushed face, staring, tremors,
heart palpations, nervousness, delayed reaction, nausea, anxiety, dizziness, seizures and
Extensive research regarding the client’s history is always compiled before any special
assessments or treatment plans are designed. This includes discussion and documentation of any
current and past diseases and conditions, accidents or traumas, including psychological, the use
of all drugs and nutritional supplements, and typical diet and life-style practices.
Specialized assessments that help measure current levels of awareness and attention,
sensory and visual spatial processing, and general cognitive functioning are given to the client at
the initial interview/s. These assessments include the “Mini Mental Status Exam”, “The Clock
Test”, “The House Drawing”, “The Self Esteem Assessment”, and DAT’s unique “Figure 8
Exercise”. Most importantly, a neuro-distress survey and assessment is always performed to help
predict a client’s tolerance levels during future testing and to gage present stress levels. The
above tests, especially the neuro-distress survey, are repeated periodically throughout the
prescribed treatment program in order to accurately assess the program and chart client progress.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
Specific DAT Therapies
The DAT program consists of three basic components that involve color, line and visual
movement. These include a series of designs such as the Therapeutic Drawing Series (TDS) that
provide manual stimulation in the form of art abstract designs; certain Computer Exercises that
use mechanical stimulation (eg: the exercise Tetris); and the Cognitive Range of Motion
Exercises that use verbal and visual recall exercises involving letters, words, and mental images
designed to improve the clients ability to “focus” thereby having improved attention.
DAT is progressively developmental in its approach as it works to re-establish brain
functioning, including neurotransmitter activity, by using visual/hand movement, speed of
mental processing, and memory exercises in a methodically progressive manner. Prescribed
DAT exercises are intended to increase in difficulty in small increments, progressing in three
distinct phases: passive, semi-active, and active. “Passive” is when the client merely watches the
therapist perform the activity. “Semi-active” is when the therapist asks the client to perform part
of the activity or to engage in conversation about the activity. “Active” is when the client
engages fully in the activity without help from the therapist. An example of a DAT drawing
(manual) exercise utilizing all three phases is the “blind contour drawing exercise”. Engaging in
the passive mode is when the client merely watches the therapist draw the contour (outside) of an
object, such as a human figure, onto a large sheet of paper. This warm-up exercise using
movement initiates the process of neurotransmitter and synaptic activity within the visual
portions of the brain. Performance of this exercise in the semi-passive mode would occur after
the client has finished watching the therapist draw the contour figure, and is then asked to copy
this drawing onto a piece of paper in front of him without ever looking down at the paper he is
drawing it onto. To do this same exercise “actively” the client would be allowed to copy the
Holistic Health Care and DAT
therapist’s drawing while looking at his own paper as well as the therapist’s, comparing
distances and using a ruler to obtain more accuracy if desired.
Above is a drawing I created that would be consistent with a TDS drawing of
intermediate complexity. Performing an activity with this drawing in the “active” mode
would be having the appropriate client copy it as accurately as possible, using a ruler if
desired, starting in the middle of the paper and working to the left, and then from the middle
again completing it to the right. Concentrating on the size, shape, and color of the objects
and their distances from one another helps increase concentration, awareness of visual
spatial relationships, imagination, fine motor skills, and cognitive function.
Another DAT exercise that uses all three modes to progress would be playing the
computer game Tetris (used to improve visual/spatial relationships and motor skills). Observing
how the game is played would be the “passive” mode, playing one aspect of the game would be
the “semi-active” mode, and playing the game independently would be the “active” mode.
The initial DAT exercises are specifically designed to help with the processing of
incoming sensory information gathered from the peripheral nervous system (which consists
mainly of the sensory organs of touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound), with particular emphasis
on information originating from the visual system. This rudimentary level of processing is
referred to in DAT as “bottom-up” processing because it is where information is first encounter,
usually from the outside environment, and it is where “attention” or awareness begins. When a
person is having difficulties focusing, they are having sensory decoding or “bottom-up”
problems. The parts of the brain involved in this process are located in the medial portion of the
Holistic Health Care and DAT
temporal lobe within the primal limbic system which houses the hippocampus (involved in short-
term memory and spatial navigation), and the amygdala (the seat of our emotional reactions), the
thalamus (relay station of sensory input), and corpus callosum (cross over pathway fibers linking
the two sides of the brain). The initial DAT exercises use movement, shape, color, and line to
exercise this system and improve the ability to relax, focus, and organize visual spatial fields.
As the art exercises gradually increase in complexity, they reach for higher brain areas
(parts of the thalamus and the cerebral cortex) involved in interpreting, relaying, and sorting the
initial incoming sensory information into more meaningful data. This stage is referred to in DAT
as “top down” processing. Practicing the functioning and linking of these two systems is a
fundamental DAT goal that is said to bring about improvement in cognitive functioning. Physical
improvements of other body parts may occasionally occur as well such as the client who was
able to walk again after DAT therapy (Giacco, 1997).
The DAT therapist strives to exercise both the right and left cerebral hemispheres of the
brain. The right side is usually visual, spatial, perceptual, creative, intuitive, and global, whereas
the left side is most often analytical, logical, and language oriented (Edward, 1999). The goal is
to restore and/or improve function of the mid brain (the limbic system) in order to facilitate
communication between the two hemispheres so they work efficaciously as one unit, allowing
the transmission of memory and learning (Giacco, 1997, Edward, 1999). The “Figure 8 Test”, a
unique drawing activity developed by Maureen Del Giacco, specifically attempts to measure the
amount of damage to the cross-over pathways of the two brains. These cross-over pathways are
located in the corpus callosum (Edward, 1999). Clients with brain damage often demonstrate an
“awareness deficit,” often termed “neglect”, when given this test. This is evident when the client
cannot move the drawing tool from one side of the paper to the other when attempting to draw a
Holistic Health Care and DAT
figure 8. This often occurs when the brain cannot accurately register what the eyes can see. DAT
therapy works to unblock the neuronal pathways that create these visual field deficits.
Similar to physical therapy which sets a plan of action to strengthen major muscles and
ligaments, DAT provides a program aimed at strengthening the tiny dendrites on the nerve cells.
This in turn helps increase their ability to interact and regenerate synaptic pathways involved in
sensory decoding and cognition.
Two particular clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of complex
visuospatial/motor exercises like those used in DAT to improve neuronal activity and cognition.
One such study was conducted in the late 1980’s by the Department of Psychiatry and Human
Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. In this clinical trial, 8 young men performed
exercises in the computer activity, Tetris for 4-8 weeks. Measurements of energy expenditure
(glucose metabolic rate or GMR) before and after practice using positron emission tomography
(PET) revealed that areas of the brain that had been stimulated experienced a distinct surge of
GMR. This specific glucose surge subsided once the client became skillful at the Tetris tasks
indicating that less energy (glucose) was required once the task was learned and neuronal
pathways had become streamlined at receiving and interpreting information (Haier 1992).
Another more recent clinical study conducted in 1996 at the University of Purdue in Indianapolis
on two sets of traumatically brain injured patients found similar findings using computer-assisted
cognitive rehabilitation (CARC). The two sets included 20 patients each matched for age,
education, days in coma, and time between testing. One set received the typical rehabilitation
therapies of occupational therapy, speech pathology, etc. The second set received CACR
exercises progressing in difficulty. When the trial ended, test scores for attention, visual spatial,
memory, and problem-solving showed the CARC group scored highest with significant
Holistic Health Care and DAT
improvement noted in 15 measures compared to only 7 in the control group (Chen, 1997).
Providing visual spatial exercises from the DAT repertoire, including computer exercises and
manual activities in the Therapeutic Drawing Series, plus memory exercises in the Cognitive
Range of Motion series would most likely enhance results further. A clinical trial on sensory
input, learning, and brain activity using DAT, PET and also MRI (Magnetic Resonance
Imaging), and another comparing complete DAT protocols with traditional rehabilitation
therapies would be very worthwhile.
Contrasting DAT with Traditional Art Therapy
Traditional art therapy uses the creative process of art making (the doing of art) to
improve and enhance the psychosocial and emotional well-being of individuals of any age. It
also strives to interpret a client’s art creations to find underlying psychological and emotional
meanings, such as unresolved deep seated issues from past abuse and current social or
communication problems. It does not concern itself with the physical healing of the client’s
nervous system, nor does it delve deeply into how the brain and nervous system process
information. Art exercises are not provided to improve perception and visual spatial processing
of information to the brain. Techniques outside the realm of art that foster the interpretation of
sensory information and memory such as computer and recall exercises are not considered. The
goal of traditional art therapy is to improve the psyche and self-esteem of the client, and to also
offer an avenue to purge suppressed emotions that are interfering with normal behavior. The
general theory is; there is therapy in simply the “doing” of the art as it is a unique expression,
giving authorship and a sense of fulfillment to the creator. It is also considered to be healing
because the created art piece can hold significant meaning and provide a vehicle for revealing
Holistic Health Care and DAT
hidden conflicts. Traditional art therapists part from the traditional psychological methods of
testing and verbal dialog and instead use the creative, self-actualizing, and interactive modalities
of art (painting, drawing, clay work, etc.) in the healing process. However, some art therapists
can be quite restrictive, believing in the use of visual art and no other expressive therapies, such
as music, poetry, dance, creative writing, meditation, or drama, to enhance achievement of client
goals. In contrast, expressive therapists may choose art activities as well as any of the above
modalities and more to reach similar goals, all depending on individual client interests
(Malchiodi, 2005). DAT therapists agree, and support the use of various expressive therapies,
especially those that involve movement, and may apply them in conjunction with typical DAT
exercises provided they of interest to the client and support DAT’s goal of improving “bottom-
up” and “top-down” functioning. This is an important concept in DAT; that the client’s program
be individually tailored in order to sustain a keen interest and the continued involvement in it to
maximize long lasting outcomes.
Unlike traditional art therapy, DAT does not try to delve deeply into the psyche of the
client to cause an emotional purging or acting out. DAT clients are more often dealing with
physical brain disorders that are beyond the emotional and psychological realm (eg: brain
damage, Alzheimer’s disease, mental retardation, etc.). In a nutshell, traditional art therapists
are concerned with what comes out of the client (purging, improved self-esteem, etc.), whereas
DAT therapists are concerned with what goes into the client (eg: sensory information and how it
is handled). Always forever in the mind of the DAT therapist is the awareness of the client’s
unique disabilities and limitations, and to the possibility of serious “neuro-distress”. Any sign of
this is regarded with extreme caution and most often ends the session with a cooling down
exercise, such as creating a free styling abstract painting. However, as in traditional art therapy,
Holistic Health Care and DAT
DAT strives to complete the session with the client having felt a sense of accomplishment and
continued hope for improved well being.
So far, only a handful of traditional art therapists have considered the neurological
aspects of art therapy, such as Lusebrink (2004), Riley (2004), Stewart (2004), and McNamee
(2004). Lusebrink is particularly knowledgeable about the relationship between neurology and
art therapy. In her article, Art Therapy and the Brain (2004), she delves deeply into
understanding the neuro-art-brain connection reporting new findings based on PET scans and
MRI regarding the location and formation of memories, and the processing of emotional, visual,
motor, and sensory information (Lusebrink, 2004). There is now a website (called blog spot) on
the subject called, Neuroscience and Art therapy, sponsored by a Neuroscience Art Therapy
Research Group. Undoubtedly, interest, research, and case studies blending neurology and
traditional art therapy will continue to prove its validity as a medical modality.
Integration of DAT within My Holistic Health Care Practice
My holistic health care ideas and practice evolved slowing over the years from a
background in art and science. From early childhood, I was noted for being an artist by my
teachers and peers. Although I do not have a degree in art, I have taken numerous art courses in
various media throughout my life. However, I feel my best art teacher has been myself and the
time I have spent practicing in it. For the past 19 years I have owned a small business creating
commissioned paintings, prints, and cards of children, pets, wildlife, and nature, and more
recently medical illustration. I will have this business regardless of new adventures all of my life
as it has become a part of me.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
My bachelor’s degree is in health with specialty training and certification in cytology, a
branch of laboratory medicine devoted to the microscopic analysis of human cells (eg: breast and
lung fluids, cervical Pap smears, etc.) for cancer and related diseases. I worked in this field, both
in the lab and out, since 1978. During the past ten years, I have concentrated on writing and
drawing about cytology and nutrition-related diseases. A few years ago, I completed a series of
cytology drawings depicting the characteristic cell changes associated with folic acid and B12
deficiency, as well as opportunistic viruses and fungi that I now provide to my peers in cytology
and to other health care professionals for educational purposes. I also developed a website
devoted to nutrition and cellular health, and then in 2007 published a cytology text book called,
The Art of Cytology: An illustrative Study Guide with Micronutrient Discussions. In 2008, I
created a Power Point presentation and manual for health and special education teachers called,
“Folic Acid and HPV Awareness: Combating Birth Defects and Disease Processes. Both books
illustrate how many disease processes first manifest at the cellular level due to poor nutrition,
and how cytology screening can detect initial nutritional deficiencies, especially folic acid and
B12. My goal in this area is to help prevent devastating neuro-tube birth defects and neurological
disorders (Feng, 2006, de Lau, 2007), and also human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus
associated with cervical cancer (Piyathilake, 2004). The cytology features of B vitamin
deficiencies have been documented in cytology text books for over 30 years, but they continue to
be ignored, even though they can be seen 8-10 weeks before changes are apparent in blood cells
(the current standard test for a deficiency) (Koss LG, 1979 p.274). With the advent of computer
reporting codes, a description suggesting such deficiencies is no longer allowed. I am striving to
change this.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
This past year, I completed a master’s certificate course in Holistic Health Care at
Western Michigan University which consisted of 18 credit hours of expressive therapies,
including traditional art therapy as well as psychosocial, meditative, and holistic nutrition. In my
methods class, I developed a holistic assessment and wellness plan and began using it to
interview and evaluated clients who came to me for help with their health problems. My final
course consisted of 180+ hours of field work where I developed and taught a holistic art course
to two groups of young adults with cognitive disabilities at a local public school. The students
progressed from states of depression and anger to joy and contentment at an amazing speed. One
of the main art projects I taught was “luma paintings”, colorful surrealist abstracts made from
drips of paint and plastic wrap. Over them we embedded our favorite sayings and poems using
Photo Shop to create attractive inspirational positive affirmation posters that we sold at our
community local Art Hop. Below are examples of some of the artwork we created in this class:
“Positive Affirmation Luma Paintings”
I thought of this idea after seeing how depressed my students were. Many came from group
homes, and abusive situations as well as having cognitive and emotional disabilities. Do
you see the angel in this abstract like I do? We looked hard for images in these abstracts.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
The above watercolor painting was created by a hearing and learning-impaired student who
came to my class very sullen, wanting to paint only letters with black paint on black paper. I
observed this, and then closely worked with her getting her to have eye contact and smile. Within
the first week she was painting bright vivid paintings from memories of working with her father
in their backyard gardens. Her parents were astonished by her artwork and improved attitude.
She became one of my most prolific artists whose work sold very well at the Art Hop.
Holistic Health Care and DAT
This is another drawing by the same student, now full of bright sunshine.
Jessie’s First Abstract
(oil pastels)
Emily’s” Dimensions of My Heart”
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Suneil’s Landscape
after a basic lesson in perspective
(this student is very artistic and also autistic)
Tori’s Abstract Luma Painting
He saw a pond through an icy window
Above photo of my students’ artwork that was on display at the local Art Hop
Holistic Health Care and DAT
While finishing the holistic health certification, I also completed a 100 hour certification
course in nutrition consultation and began doing nutritional and wellness assessments on clients.
This lead to being asked to speak about folic acid, birth defects, and human papilloma virus to 9th
grade health students at a local high school and then to special education teachers at their first
ever “health and wellness” education conference.
During the last couple of years while studying holistic art and expressive therapies, as
well as the B vitamins and nervous system disorders, I discovered DAT, and knew I had to take
the course. Now that I have, my desire is to integrate it into my holistic health care practice
which currently consists of holistic art tutoring and nutrition consultations. I would like to use
DAT as well as holistic art methods to continue helping young adults with cognitive disabilities
in my local area. My immediate goal is to work one-on-one with clients using the three
modalities when appropriate. My long-term goal is to work with the cognitively and emotionally
impaired in a holistic health care setting where I can draw from a wide variety of modalities,
especially those involving holistic art and neuro-art therapy. I am extremely grateful for having
had the opportunity to absorb the innovative art, science, and practice of Maureen Del Giacco’s
neuro-art therapy and hope to learn more about it in the future.
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Adams SL. (2007, April). The art of cytology: an illustrative study guide with micronutrient
discussions. 43-50, 101, 105. Indiana: Author House.
Arnold LE, Pinkham SM, Votolato N. (2000, Summer). Does zinc moderate essential fatty acid
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Bottiglieri T, Laundy M, Crellin R, et al. (2000, August). Homocysteine, folate methylation,
and monoamine metabolism in depression. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and
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in cognitive rehabilitation for the neurologically impaired (4th ed.). NY: Del Giacco.
Del Giacco M. Example report. chapter 10, Del Giacco’s art therapy course. Del Giacco Art
Therapy Institute, Albany, NY.
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de Lau LM, Refsum H, Smith AD, Johnston C, Breteler MM. (2007, September). Plasma
folate concentration and cognitive performance: Rotterdam Scan Study.
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Edwards, B. (1999). The new drawing on the right side of the brain (rev. and expanded ed.).
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This article relates recent findings in neuropsychology to the practice of art therapy. Based on published literature and the author's experiences as a therapist, it illustrates how knowledge of neurological functioning can be used to therapeutic advantage with art therapy clients. Case examples reveal that providing clients with a basic understanding of how theirbrains work and helping them translate this into the language of art can break through stalemates and advance treatment.
This paper explores findings from the fields of neuropsychology and art therapy as they relate to treating patients with dementia. It explains the biological, physical, and psychological manifestations of dementia, and current treatment modalities. Art therapy has been shown to be beneficial to patients with dementia. Unfortunately, it is the rare long-term care facility that offers such a program to its residents. The graphic indicators that manifest themselves in the art of patients with dementia are discussed along with four case examples that illustrate the benefits of art therapy programs for patients in varying stages of dementia. The implications of such treatments for society are explored, including the need for more studies integrating art therapy and neuroscience.
The application of new techniques in brain imaging has expanded the understanding of the different functions and structures of the brain involved in information processing. This paper presents the main areas and functions activated in emotional states, the formation of memories, and the processing of motor, visual, and somatosensory information. The relationship between the processes of art expressions and brain functions is approached from the viewpoint of the different levels of the Expressive Therapies Continuum (Lusebrink, 1990, 1991) with examples from art therapy interventions. The basic level of interventions with art media is through sensory stimulation. Visual feature recognition and spatial placement are processed by the ventral and dorsal branches of the visual information processing system. Mood-state drawings echo the differences in the activation of different brain areas in emotional states. The cognitive and symbolic aspects of memories can be explored through the activation of their sensory components.
Neuroscience researchers identify a cerebral cortex with two functioning hemispheres: a left hemisphere associated with language and speech and a right hemisphere associated with visual-motor activities. Additionally, neuroscientists argue that contemporary lifestyles favor the verbal, logical left brain and often ignore the truths that present in the right brain. Psychotherapy techniques range in their use of left-brain verbal discourse and right-brain nonverbal discourse. In a case study, the author describes experiences integrating both verbal and nonverbal therapy with a client with severe anxiety and depression. Nonverbal therapy involved annotated scribble drawings. Images in the drawings became the stimuli for verbal discourse with the client. Other client responses to the annotated scribble drawings are described.
Regional cerebral glucose metabolic rate (GMR) quantified with positron emission tomography (PET) with 18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose (FDG) was measured twice in 8 young men performing a complex visuospatial/motor task (the computer game Tetris), before and after practice. After 4-8 weeks of daily practice on Tetris, GMR in cortical surface regions decreased despite a more than 7-fold increase in performance. Subjects who improved their Tetris performance the most after practice showed the largest glucose metabolic decreases after practice in several areas. These results suggest that learning may result in decreased use of extraneous or inefficient brain areas. Changes in regional subcortical glucose metabolic rate with practice may reflect changes in cognitive strategy that are a part of the learning process.
The literature on folate related neuropathy has been reviewed. Twenty patients fulfilled the following criteria (a) they presented with neurological findings for which no other cause could be found (b) the serum or red cell and/or the CSF folate was low (c) the serum vitamin B12 or vitamin B12 absorption was normal and (d) they showed a significant response to folic acid. Ten presented with a peripheral neuropathy, eight with subacute combined degeneration of the cord and two with a myelopathy. In two patients the neuropathy occurred when treatment for congenital malabsorption of folate--an isolated lesion affecting folate alone--lapsed. Two patients with subacute combined degeneration died and posterio-lateral sclerosis of the cord was confirmed at autopsy. Three patients were mentally retarded and nine showed mental changes which also responded to folate in addition to the neurological disorder. A single biochemical reaction, the methionine synthetase reaction, is suggested as the basis for the neurological as well as the haematological consequences of both vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. The pitfalls in diagnosis are discussed and a greater awareness of the condition urged.