Richmond Borough Mind

Art as a form of therapy

Kathy Whyte was the Wellbeing Centre’s Art co-ordinator for the past two years, here she tells us of her experience of working with RB Mind. 

I am a big believer of utilising the power of  ‘doodling’ for improving the emotional and mental health of RB Mind’s service users. There is no doubt that many people use art as a means to deal with stress, trauma and unhappiness - or to just find greater peace and meaning in their lives.

I usually start the art sessions with a ‘warm up exercise’,  doodling or scribbling on an A4 sheet of paper. I encourage the participants to ‘visualise’ the process by suggesting that they  ‘take their pencil for a walk.’

When they are in the process of an art activity they can take it upon themselves to finish their artwork,  outside our centre in their own time.

Sometimes I will hear someone say  ‘I don’t feel very well today’, but with gentle encouragement, they will later comment that they feel better for having taken part in the session.

I emphasise to the service users: “You can not make a mistake with your art, there are no expectations, it is an exercise in self expression.”  To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. It is important to enjoy this time for yourself, have fun in the process.

That is when I feel I have succeeded as an art coordinator. It is human nature that we can be judgemental, critical, our own worst enemy. 

Creating can be in many forms, be it growing a beautiful flower having started from seed and by lovingly watering it as it grows. The challenge that I put forward to those participating in the art sessions, is to ‘THINK OUT OF THE BOX’ to push their imagination in a positive manner, to take time to be reflective, and with pen or paint to paper, proceed to produce a work of art.

As a ‘group activity’ they have collectedly made a welcome banner for the Wellbeing Centre, another is to pass a sheet of paper around, where everyone adds to the picture whatever comes to their mind. 

A painting can have a powerful and at times a painful dynamic whether painting a still life of beautiful spring flowers to painting outdoors on a nice summer day.

Most recently I brought in a huge pumpkin that a friend of mine grew in her allotment and ‘Jack’ was our still life painted in variety of ways. Also they made masks out of papier mache while nibbling on roasted pumpkin seeds that were baked in our Wellbeing Centre oven for all to enjoy shortly after Jack O’ Lantern was chopped up.

 Christmas is a time of decorating oranges, lovingly adorned with cloves giving a festive scent to our Centre. Also, service users made their own Christmas wreaths and bows, which they were able to take home with them to hang up on their own door.  

 To creatively challenge oneself can be a difficult process for those who suffer with mental health disorders, but it equally can be the start of a healing journey in a safe place such as the Wellbeing Centre.

There is no judgement nor criticism passed, only support focusing on  their own recovery. It is a place where the service users can benefit from the range of activities we have on offer.

Creating art is the same for our service users and really for all of us. So start doodling see the benefits.


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