Local artist overcomes OCD symptoms through treatment and therapeutic creativity
Fifteen years ago, 79-year-old Howard Clark fought –and beat – prostate cancer. He knew he was lucky to be alive, but after fighting for his life, something changed in Howard’s mind and spirit. It was something he couldn’t explain let alone understand.
Through his cancer recovery, Howard gradually developed and intense fear of “germs,” as he called them; germs he believed would bring back his cancer. Eventually he was convinced, in his mind, that the only way to prevent a reoccurrence was to avoid the germs.
“I was afraid of smelling certain materials,” Howard says. “I even started to fear my paints.”
For Howard, a businessman, artist, father, and grandfather, this realization was extremely troubling because painting was his passion. When he made the decision to reach out, he found Michael Lowry, M.D., an adult behavioral psychiatrist at University of Utah Health Care’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI). Dr. Lowry explained to Howard that his symptoms were indicative of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an extreme form of anxiety that affects approximately 2.2 million American adults each year.
“The first thing Dr. Lowry said to me was ‘Yes, I can help you,’” Howard says, adding that his doctor paid very special attention to him by carefully creating a treatment plan and making himself available when Howard needed help or had concerns. “He said ‘I can cure you,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
As he worked through his condition with Dr. Lowry, Howard began to realize that the key to beating his disorder was art, which remained a constant source of joy for him throughout everything he’d been through. Eventually, Howard began eliminating his need for medication because painting, he discovered, had the same effect.
“You’ve got to do things that create good feelings and not bad ones,” he says, “and I don’t think I could have done it without Dr. Lowry.”
These days, Howard continues to paint and has proudly donated dozens of original works to various buildings at his beloved college alma mater, including the University of Utah Hospital, Huntsman Cancer Institute, the David Eccles School of Business, and of course, the new expansion at UNI. He describes most of his paintings are abstract, emotional “colorscapes,” which have earned him several awards, including accolades from the Utah Water Color Society. He has also served as chairman of University of Utah’s College of Fine Arts advisory board, and he regularly conducts art therapy sessions at UNI.
“Art heals patients who are sick,” Howard says, “and I like to be a part of that healing process because it was part of my healing process.”
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