January 16, 2020

Latin American Summer School on Epilepsy Allows Scientists and Clinicians to Empathize With Their Patients Through Art

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to present and analyze the way epilepsy researchers and specialists present epilepsy through visual art forms.

METHODS: Students and epilepsy specialists, including clinicians and scientists, participating in the Latin American Summer School on Epilepsy (LASSE XIII) 2019 were asked to voluntarily portray epilepsy artistically by painting or drawing what they perceive that represents the feeling or challenges of persons with epilepsy. Resulting artwork was categorized according to several themes. The latter was analyzed in the clinical and social context of the disease.

RESULTS: Twenty-six paintings available for analysis have been reviewed. The three main interpretations of epilepsy were outlined as follows: epilepsy as an identity schism, epilepsy as a loss of control, and epilepsy as a complex condition. Five artworks best suited the first category as they presented people with faces split into healthy and diseased sides, representing the emotional and social burden of seizures. Three drawings defined epilepsy as a loss of control, visualizing that all the phases of seizure activity (ictal, postictal, and interictal) are able to imprison the patient by disrupting mental processes. The last theme included four artworks that defined epilepsy as being a multicomponent enigma: the intertwining of unresolved pathophysiologic processes and psychosocial burden accompanying the disease was emphasized. In addition, the challenges to care for the patients in order to improve not only seizures but also their quality of life were noticed as an idea complementing the visual definition of epilepsy.

CONCLUSION: Participants of LASSE XIII demonstrated an ability to empathize with their patients in retrospect by portraying the inner feelings of division and imprisonment of those having seizures. Epilepsy specialists visualize the disease as a composite phenomenon both in terms of its neural origin and of multidisciplinary requirements to implement its care.

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