Therapy helps get to the art of the matter

Art therapist Laura Richardson
Art therapist Laura Richardson
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n As many as one in four people at some time in their life will be affected by a mental health condition.

IT might be a pretty picture or a complex piece of sculpture – but beneath the surface, works of art often have a much deeper story to tell.

They reflect the world that the poet, musician, artist is living in and the way they are thinking and feeling in relation to it.

With it comes satisfaction and enjoyment – not to mention the pleasure of the finished product.

It is all these things, along with inspiring a connection with others, that art therapy embraces to try and help and support people living with mental health problems.

A form of psychotherapy, it involves using art materials and creative projects to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions which might otherwise be difficult to express.

In Sheffield mental health and wellbeing services are run by the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, operating in hospital, residential facilities, and in the community.

The trust has embraced art therapy and the benefits it can have and currently employs eight art therapists.

Laura Richardson, who leads the team, said: “Arts therapies are all about encouraging people to experiment, improvise and play with art materials or music.

“It encourages them to develop their creativity, express themselves and explore personal meaning in the work they create. This is often helpful for people who find it difficult to say how they feel.”

Service users are then encouraged to talk about their art with a qualified and experienced therapist.

It can often be the key for a patient to open up about difficult or traumatic experiences or relationships past or present and, in time, it can provide a fresh perspective on life and reduce feelings of isolation.

Laura added: “Art therapy can help people identify and make changes in their lives, as well as promote recovery, and help with managing and adjusting to a long term condition.

“No previous art experience is needed, and the main aim is to help people engage in arts processes in their own way, rather than to make work specifically to exhibit or perform.”

The therapy covers all different genres of art from painting, modelling and sculpture and the creative processes they go though – from choosing what colours to use and how the paint is put on the paper – is a way of opening up dialogue on feelings and emotions.

Laura and her colleagues work with people with a full range of mental health difficulties including depression and bi-polar disorder, with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommending art therapy as a treatment for those with schizophrenia.

It can also help break down some of the stigma of mental health problems and boosts the confidence of those taking part.

“Creating art or being involved in the arts can often help people to gain confidence and feel effective. It helps to focus on their abilities and skills rather than on symptoms and disabilities,” said Laura.

Some service users go on to develop their talents as artists, setting up their studios and developing a career. Some continue to use art-making as a way of reflecting on and managing difficult feelings after they have finished their course of art therapy.

Feedback from those who use the service has been so powerful, the trust has recently launched the new Strategy for Arts, Wellbeing and Inclusion which runs until 2014.

The aim is to raise awareness of art therapy, work with service users to identity the benefits it brings and promote inclusion in mainstream arts.

As part of the plan the trust will develop links with arts and community organisations in the city, and service users will also be encouraged to participate in city events such as the popular annual books festival, Off-The-Shelf, the festival of open arts studios Open Up Sheffield, and National projects like The Big Draw.

Kevan Taylor, trust chief executive, said: “Service-users have told us how highly they value the service and this has lead to the creation of the new strategy.

“Through developing services the trust will be building on its reputation in art therapy.”

One in four will suffer a mental health condition

As many as one in four people at some time in their life will be affected by a mental health condition.

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust provides art therapy in a variety of services including mental health rehabilitation, community mental health, SPACES – Sheffield Pathways and Community Engagement Services. The trust also offers music therapy for people in the residential rehabilitation service at Forest Close. These services help people with a wide range of mental health problems.

Art therapies are also provided by the trust to the Brain Injury service at the Northern General Hospital and the Children and Young Peoples Mental Health Services also have a city-wide art therapy service.

The trust houses the Art Therapy Northern Programme, which has provided a base for art therapy training and research for many years.

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