She Turns to Art to Healing:
Interview with Holistic Nurse Lisa Wayman, Part 1
Registered nurse Lisa Wayman is board-certified in advanced holistic nursing, which, in simplest terms, is a relationship-based way to care for the ill that is grounded in the philosophy that a patient becomes well when the whole person — body, mind, spirit — is treated and healed. In practice, a holistic nurse "partners" with a patient to facilitate healing and wellness.
Wayman also is an artist with a special interest in art's role in improving patient outcomes. Currently, she is pursuing studies in how art can promote whole-person healing and resilience. She herself has had first-hand experience: She turned to painting when her young son Joseph became ill in 1996 with the cancer that eventually claimed his life two years later. Wayman's art-making, she believes, was a means to care for her soul during a period of intense grief.
In a candid interview by e-mail, Wayman spoke with me about her professional pursuits and interests and her own experience using art to respond to and transform suffering and loss. Part 2 posts tomorrow.
Excerpts from this edited interview appeared earlier at the T.S. Poetry Press blog TweetSpeakPoetry. See the post.
* * * * *
Maureen Doallas: Lisa, how did you become interested in holistic nursing?
Lisa Wayman: As a nursing student, I was really not into holistic nursing. I told myself that I got into nursing because I needed a steady job and to make money. I think I was embarrassed by the sentimentality of wanting to change people's lives [and] socialized to a part of the profession that valued reasoning and action [over] feeling and connection with patients. I had the fortune of having H. Lea Gaydoes, an American Holistic Nurse Association (AHNA) "Nurse of the Year", as my instructor. She used to say that caring was the essence of nursing. I actually rolled my eyes [at that]. I thought I could be a nurse and help people simply by having good technical skills, and that nursing wouldn't require relationship or a change in who I was.
MD: What changed your mind?
LW: A year of working in the ICU. I got pretty beaten up. ICU is rough, and I was working with my feelings walled off so that I wouldn't be hurt [yet] I talked about it, dreamt about it, and worried about it; the suffering was more than I was prepared for. I just didn't have the self-care skills or the maturity to enter into relationships with my patients and [still be able] to let go. I went to Gaydos and asked for help. She got me started in holistic nursing. I still worked in the ICU but started taking little steps. . . entering into real relationships. Paradoxically, [allowing myself to care more] let me let go of the patients when I went home.
[A] few years later [when] Joe got sick, I learned big lessons in how important the healing relationship is. . . The experience of caring for him while he was ill and dying catalyzed a transformative shift of my consciousness and greatly enlarged my practice. The things I knew in my head about who I was and how to be a nurse. . . moved into my heart and my whole being through caring for Joe.
After he died, I needed to know more, so I went back to school for a master's in holistic nursing.
MD: Tell us about your doctoral studies.
LW: I started my doctoral studies when I realized I wanted to ask in-depth questions about healing and didn't know how to ask or answer questions in a scientific way. I specifically want to study how art works as a healing intervention.
MD: How does art therapy differ from art as healing intervention?
LW: Art therapy is pretty well-defined; the therapist uses art to diagnose and treat psychiatric illness. In art as healing intervention, all kinds of people — nurses, artists, physicians, etc. — use art to promote whole-person healing and resilience.
I want to study how creating art works to help [promote] resilience, so that practitioners can hone their programs to better meet patient needs.
MD: Where do you anticipate your studies will lead?
LW: I hope to combine clinical practice (working with people creating art) with research (asking and answering questions).
MD: You work as a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona. Is that work directly related to your doctoral studies?
LW: I help coordinate the master's level entry program. I'm working with our clinical partner to build a relationship and fine-tune details of the clinical setting for our students and instructors. I also substitute-teach in clinical instruction and do some classroom teaching. The work is not directly related to my studies.
MD: What led you to choose UA?
LW: I chose UA because it has a strong history of working with holistic nursing and promoting research in whole-person healing. I'm working with Mary Koithan, my chair who is on international committees working in complexity and chaos theory and how it relates to healing. My committee has challenged and supported me [and] my Ph.D. studies have been transformative. I've noticed big changes in how I think and approach health issues.
MD: You've mentioned "resilience research". What does that entail? How do you define "resilience" and how might the presence of art in our lives affect our ability to be resilient?
LW: That is a really interesting question.
Resilience has been defined as recovery, growth, and transformation. Transformation or, as some call it, transcendence, is the most resilient response to a stressor. It's a qualitative change in [your sense of] who you are in response to a stressor.
I'm working on a article to model the process of resilience. I'm looking at concepts of resilience, how the concepts are related, and how the creative process can influence response to stressors to promote transcendence.
MD: What, if any, background in the arts is necessary or recommended to pursue such studies as yours?
LW: [B]uilding expertise in art is important when assisting others in creating art for healing. Part of healing in art [is about] interacting with the product [the artwork]; if the product of art-making doesn't reflect internal processes, the interaction may not be so helpful.
Also, just the discipline of learning how to create is an important lesson. I come to my studies and research goals from a healing perspective. We know that art works; what we don't understand so well are the aspects of healing and the dimensions of the experience leading to healing.
I have presented some small workshops introducing art as a healing intervention but I don't have a clinical practice that involves working regularly with patients creating art. I don't have the experience I need to independently implement art programs for patients but I can partner with more experienced artists and bring the nursing perspective to the team. For me, the goal of creating art for healing is as much about the healing experience as it is about the art.
Tomorrow, in Part 2, Lisa Wayman addresses how she found her way into painting while her son Joe was ill and what insights into herself she has gained through her art-making. She also talks about current research in the beneficial effects of art as an interventional or promotional health tool.