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"Don't Give Up": A Q&A with Diane Kaufman, MD' 79

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

In 2019 Dr. Diane Kaufman, child psychiatrist, poet, author, artist and SUNY Downstate alumna received the Alumni Association's Dr. Frank L. Babbott Award for distinguished service to both the medical profession and the general community. In that very same year she founded Creative Life Lines and Arts Medicine for Hope and Healing. Prior to her psychiatric residency and child psychiatry fellowship, Dr. Kaufman completed pediatric internship and residency with pediatric board certification. Her passion for helping "children and adults experience well-being" led her to psychiatry. Her dedication to transforming "trauma into creative resilience" and, her latest creative endeavor, a song called "Don't Give Up," remind us why Dr. Diane Kaufman is so deserving of recognition for her work.

"Don't Give Up" is a beautiful song with a great message. Please tell the Alumni Association about the inspiration and the writing process.

I’m a child psychiatrist and with the covid-19 pandemic have held online sessions with my patients. So many of my patient were expressing anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The fear, loss, grief, and despair of the world-wide, country and community-wide, intersecting with family and individual impacts of the deadly virus were evolving in real time within personal stories of trauma, resilience, hope, or the lack thereof. I spontaneously wrote “Don’t Give Up” for my patients and my wanting - yearning - for them not to hurt or kill themselves. I also believe I wrote the poem for myself. I wrote the poem for the world, or perhaps. better said, the poem channeled itself through me so I could share it. I could hear music - a song - in the poem, and reached out for creative collaboration. Singer/songwriter Mia Stegner added a chorus to the poem turned lyric, and I added the second “okay” in the chorus to signify that the song is an attuned conversation, a reaching out to one who feels hurt, lost, and is at a crossroad between life and death. With Mia and the arranger/producer Raymiah Jackson, the “Don’t Give Up” song became as deeply beautiful as I imagined it could be. My goal is to donate the song so it can do its healing and loving work.

How has your own trauma and struggles influenced your art and the way you practice medicine?

So much of my art is about rendering in words, sounds, and images trauma’s impact and the ways to healing.

Creating such art is healing unto itself. As a person with Bipolar II Disorder, I have experienced such intensity of emotions that have at times been associated with distorted thinking. When I was a medical student at Downstate Medical Center, I made a very serious suicide attempt and ended up medically admitted at Mount Sinai Hospital. Fortunately I lived. I understand what it means to be at the crossroads and to cross over the line into a territory that is dangerous and can ultimately be deadly. I know this as a human experience and also as a mental health - physical illness experience. My art is a way to help myself and others.

A happy Dr. Diane Kaufman the 2019 NAMI Walk (National Alliance on Mental Illness) holding a poem-poster about NAMI. She wrote the poem and Amanda Meador created the artwork.

Did you always know how you would merge art and medicine? What did the journey look like?

As a young child in a school composition about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a “Medical Doctor or a Medical Draw-er” and amazingly, that it what I became, especially if you change the “or” to an “and.” My journey into being and becoming is a life process of growing and emerging. I believe there is something within me – within all of us – a life force – that knows much more than the ego “I” and that this force is a loving energy protecting and nourishing all life in all of its creativity. This embodied spiritual belief expressed through art making is a safe haven for me.

Do you have any advice for colleagues and current medical students who would like to incorporate art into their practice?

Art is a way of seeing, hearing, sensing, feeling, imagining, envisioning and relating. One does not need a formal training in art school to appreciate the “art of living” and the “art of medicine.” The root meaning of “poetry” is “to make.” When we are able to make the new from the old – whether that “old” is injustice, abuse, terror, trauma or the beauty of being seen and heard --- when we continually strive to make the “better now” by recognizing the past and honoring the struggle, the will to survive and our dedication to humane values - we are all artists. Ask your patients what gives their lives meaning and in what ways they see themselves as being creative. After all, the greatest work of art can be in living our own lives. These questions when asked authentically and without judgment can act to help open closed curtains, raise up heretofore locked windows, and throw wide open doors as portal entrance into new possibilities.


Listen to "Don't Give Up" by clicking here and take a look at Dr. Kaufman's work below!

(L-R) Painting "Bird of Prey/Pray"& Poem, "Hope and Healing” (poster by visual artist Amanda Meador and Dr. Kaufman)

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