There is a fairly extensive article on the Time magazine site about using creative practice to address burnout. The piece by Jamie Ducharme was titled “I Tried to Cure My Work Burnout. Here’s What Happened.” As readers know, I dislike the prescriptive use of the arts as a cure for physical/mental/social ills so I feared the worse.
Ducharme’s article covers the efforts of the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine’s Colorado Resiliency Arts Lab (CORAL) to do research on relieving people’s burnout. At this time they are generally focusing on healthcare workers in their research.
I was happy to see that the researchers didn’t see themselves as curing burnout as much as building resilience in participants.
But the data suggest one leads to the other: for almost 150 health care providers who joined the study from September 2020 to July 2021, the approach led to small but significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and burnout, according to a 2022 study published in the American Journal of Medicine. If the framework proves effective for people in a wider swath of health care jobs, Moss says CORAL’s approach could feasibly be adopted by burned-out workers in any industry.
What I really appreciated was the finding that it was the social activity, rather than the creative practice alone that lead to the reduction of burnout. This bolsters messaging arts and cultural organizations use regarding sharing experiences with others in a face to face environment. To some extent, the research supports providing more interactive experiences versus passively watching a show or viewing visual art without comment or discussion.
But when I asked Moss and his team if the CORAL curriculum could be distilled into something I, or any individual, could do on my own, I was met with a resounding no. The program’s magic, its facilitators said, is in bringing people together to feel the solidarity and community so often lacking in modern life. People can draw or dance or write or sing on their own, but it likely won’t have the same transformative effect without a human connection.
That’s what Dr. Colin West, who researches physician well-being at the Mayo Clinic, found in 2021, when he published a study on what happened when physicians met up for group discussions over meals. Their burnout symptoms improved, but it wasn’t necessarily the food that made the difference—it was support. “We have so many shared experiences and so many stressors that are in common, and yet physicians will often feel like, Well, I can’t talk to anybody about this,” West says. Bringing people together to share their experiences can help.