Healing Words reminds viewers that the best medicine involves a doctor at the bedside listening sincerely to a patient. The film follows Dr. John Graham-Pole and poet John Fox as they enter hospital rooms and help patients write poems as part of the healing process. Compassion, Healing Words shows, can flourish in the unlikeliest of places: a sterile hospital room.
Since 1990, the Arts in Medicine (AIM) program at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida has used arts therapy to help patients and their families deal with the sorrows, losses and unexpected joys that accompany illness and recovery. As part of the worldwide arts therapy movement, AIM supports therapy in the form of dance, music, drama, visual arts and creative writing.
Healing Words highlights the poetry component of this remarkable program by following the journey of poetry therapist John Fox from room to room as he gently coaxes words from patients, many of whom have never written poetry before.The program's results are touching, poignant and always surprising. Every patient has a different story. For Bertis, a teenager who suffers from sickle-cell anemia, dance therapy helps relieve her pain when conventional drugs no longer work. Together with John Fox and dance therapist Jill Sonke, she composes a poem that describes how dancing—even while confined to her bed—is a transcendent experience. Jack, a Vietnam veteran awaiting a heart transplant, struggles with feelings of unworthiness. For Jack and many other patients, writing poems releases private feelings. For some, poetry captures an essential truth about themselves—a memory from childhood or a moment of insight—and deepens their understanding of their lives and their illnesses. This understanding, the film shows, is the key to healing.
The doctors who work at Shands also write and share their poetry. Doctors John Graham-Pole, Michael Okun and Robert Lawrence write candidly and compassionately about the many patients they have cared for over the years. They draw connections between the science of their medical profession and the healing arts—connections that are essential to their work as physicians.
"The practice of medicine is an interface between art and medicine," says neurologist Dr. Michael Okun, "if you leave one or the other out, then you ultimately fail with your patients." With nearly twenty years of seeing the beneficial results of arts therapy, AIM has extended its program to the University of Florida medical students, who describe in the film how writing keeps their spirit of humanity alive.
Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine serves as an inspiring antidote to the sad situations described in Michael Moore's documentary Sicko. Though the U.S. medical system is undoubtedly riddled with problems, Healing Words reaffirms the sacredness of the doctor-patient relationship. Viewers will be touched by the compassion shown in this powerful and poignant documentary.
Can poetry heal? This documentary gives a resounding yes!