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UMass Medical School to study drawing 'tangles'

March 2021

Read original article in the Telegram & Gazette

 UMass Medical School study is investigating whether drawing circles and swirls and creating individual drawings can help people with serious mental illness.

The study will investigate whether the "Zentangle" method can improve symptoms and daily functioning.  

UMass Medical School Psychotic Disorders Research Program is collaborating with Open Sky, a community service group based in Worcester, to present an eight-week virtual art therapy study session to participants with serious mental illness. 

The study initially enrolled around 10 participants. The inclusion criteria for the study is those ages 18-65 years with a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorder, major depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder according to DSM-V criteria, said Alair Newman, psychiatry medical resident at UMass Medical School.

“It is so exciting to see UMass promote mindfulness-based techniques, such as Zentangle, as a part of mental health treatment,” Dr. Newman said. "We are hoping to see if engaging in this therapy has positive impacts on symptoms and quality of life for those enrolled." 

The Zentangle Method is founded by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, who also lead the study through an hour-long session each week through Zoom, with specific instructions drawing structured patterns (tangles) that allow participants to follow along.  The method is described as an easy-to-learn, relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images. 

During the session, participants learned basic shapes and themes during the first two weeks and continued to build on those every week, ending with at least one completed "tangle" each session. Participants share drawings with each other through camera at the end.

The study is almost wrapping up and will conclude a post-study assessment after the session ends. The result will come out after four weeks of the end of session. 

In addition to the Zentangle study, UMass Medical School conducted several studies in the past including arts, music and lifestyle modules that focus on engaging community members with mental illness in physical activities or nutritional seminars. 

"One from previous years I specifically know of is a paint-night hosted for those with symptoms of psychosis," Dr. Newman said. "The post-event survey from this indicated that those who participated enjoyed the activity and were willing to engage in future sessions."

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