Creative Arts Therapists Connect to Build a Harvey Healing Tree
After Hurricane Harvey doused an unprecedented amount of rain on Houston last August, creative arts therapists from Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston Methodist Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital coordinated with the Harvey Arts Recovery Project to organize four Harvey Healing Days throughout the city to help repair emotional wounds left by the storm.
“We are charged with treating the whole human in our nine-to-five jobs at the hospital,” said Marial Biard, a certified neurologic music therapist at Texas Children’s. “Our physicians, nurses and doctors use medicine to treat the cancer and heal the broken bones and we help heal the head and the heart—the areas impacted by the illness or trauma—to make them whole again. That’s what we did with Harvey; we helped heal these humans.”
At each Harvey Healing Day, guests had an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings on canvas strips that have now become part of one collective piece of art—a big, unbreakable tree. Constructed of chicken wire and cloth, the tree is brightly-colored and flexible.
“We wanted the base of the tree to be created out of fabric and materials that stretch because that is something that we all had to do. Resources were stretched, people were out of their comfort zone,” Biard said. “Each of these strips tells a story of community, of resiliency, and adds to this tree and its branches and leaves. So what was a very beautiful but empty trunk has now been brought to life.”
The fabric pieces on the Harvey Healing Tree carry the sentiments of participants: “Keep moving through.” “Houston Strong.” “Every day is new.” “Coming together.” “Power. Hope. Love.” “Faith. Community. Support.” “Breathe.”
Creative arts therapists received psychological first aid training before each Harvey Healing Day to offer the most appropriate care possible. Therapy was not limited to writing on strips of canvas.
“We chose to include all of the creative arts in the Harvey Healing Days because you could see that [victims] had built up these walls and you need these different modalities—art, music and movement—to take these layers down and create with one another and be silly and fun,” Biard said.
Therapists encouraged guests to dance, sing, drum, play instruments and more.
“To get an opportunity for expression where you don’t need words … I think that is one of the most powerful pieces for people,” said Jennifer Townsend, music therapy program manager for the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist. “People may not be able to tell you exactly how they are feeling, but they can create their strip of canvas or learn that song on the ukulele or bang on the drums as hard as they can.”
The Harvey Healing Tree will be unveiled to the public on Saturday, Aug. 25—the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival in Houston—during a celebration at Discovery Green to honor Houston’s resilience in the face of a disaster.
At the end of the event, a team of Texas Medical Center creative arts therapists and guests will deliver the Harvey Healing Tree to Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby St., where it will remain on display for two months.
The Harvey Healing Tree will be revealed between 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25, at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St. Information: 713-400-7336 or discoverygreen.com.