Prescribed museum visits an easy pill to swallow

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For patients in need of comfort, prescriptions for free museum visits could beat the blues of illness.

Beginning Nov. 1, Médecins francophones du Canada (MFC) will work with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to allow doctors to write prescriptions for free museum visits. This initiative will extend to the museum establishing art therapy programs and participating in studies to determine the impact of museum visits on people with varying mental and physical health issues.

The program’s innovative intent—to provide a curated and soothing sensory experience free of financial barriers—could go a long way for those in need.

Whether an art aficionado or simply someone in need of emotional and mental relief, the museum experience expands mindfulness and a sense of community.

This initiative complements traditional mental health work to treat patients as whole people, with interests and emotions. 

MFC doctors’ encouragement could work for those struggling with attempting mindfulness. Physicians often recommend exercise, diets, music therapy and emotional support animals to assuage mental health-related symptoms. Prescribing time in a space devoted to art falls under that same category.

However, unlike some mental health recommendations like exercise or art therapy, free museum visits don’t carry the same accessibility barriers. Galleries and museums are overwhelmingly physically accessible, from wheelchair accommodations to gender-neutral bathrooms.

Museums are quiet, neutral spaces with benches for reflection and docents for artistic discussion. Art expresses intense emotion—even art displaying sadness can reassure people they’re not alone. Similar to spending time in nature, being in a measured and beautiful space can be immensely comforting.

It’s positive that mental health is being given the same validity as physical health. Though a free museum visit is no replacement for medical treatment, it creates a sense of peace, which has a balancing effect.

Understanding that doctors will prescribe these visits after engaging patients in discussion about whether they’re of interest, this initiative doesn’t claim to replace modern medicine. It encourages a change of scene and a shared experience.

Paintings and sculpture have always been emotionally important to our wellbeing. They provide perspective and encourage reflection. If a medical institution encourages that positive experience as part of wellness, its low risk results in high reward.

If looking for a feeling of connection or a respite from overwhelming pressures, time spent at a museum could be just what the doctor ordered.

—Journal Editorial Board

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