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Psychiatrists in Brussels can now prescribe museum visits for mental health issues

Psychiatrists in Brussels can now prescribe museum visits for mental health issues

Alderwoman for Culture, Tourism and Big events Delphine Houba launched the new programme in the hope to reverse some of the mental damage caused by the pandemic

Last week Delphine Houba, the Alderwoman for Culture, Tourism and Big Events in Brussels announced the start of a new psychiatric/cultural initiative aiming to alleviate some of the pent up stress from the pandemic and social distancing measures.

The Alderwoman’s pilot three-month programme involves the CHU Brugmann psychiatry department prescribing patients visits to the five public museums in Brussels: The Sewer Museum, The Brussels City Museum, The Fashion & Lace Museum, the Centrale Museum for Contemporary Art and The GardeRobe MannekenPis Museum.

Shifting the healing process away from hospitals and into the community

The concept of ‘museum prescriptions’ refers to the practice of doctors prescribing culture as a treatment for patients suffering from stress, burnout, mental illness and anxiety. Naturally, it is not an alternative to tried and tested medical approaches, instead it is supposed to function as a supplement.

‘Museum prescriptions’ were pioneered in the UK back in 2017, with a parliamentary report recommending the treatment be incorporated into the treatment of dementia. The report also stressed the need for doctors to receive additional training on the health benefits of art therapy.

Alderwoman Houba, tough, was mainly inspired by the Canadian equivalent of the programme. In the province of Quebec, the Médecins francophones du Canada and the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal have teamed up so local phyciatrists can prescribe up to 50 museum visits per year.

As public spaces, museums offer a unique opportunity to better the mental health of citizens. On the one hand, they are a quiet place for learning, aesthetic appreciation and introspection. On the other, they are inherently public spaces, open to numerous people from all walks of life, passing through carefully curated exhibitions, showcasing artefacts that reflect the values of a culture.

Alderwoman Houba sees this programme as an opportunity to reverse some of the mental damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She expressed her hope for the future benefits of the programme on Facebook: “Going to an exhibition can help to change your mind, share emotions, get out of everyday life and forget your worries. All of this is scientifically demonstrated. The aim of these museum prescriptions is to come in support of the healing process.”

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