As practicing artists with over 20 years experience of working with people with mental health problems we felt it was time to develop a direct hands-on approach using the latest creativity and motivational techniques. We have been developing these processes to train mental health professionals for the last 5 years; often their reaction to our techniques has been initially cautious, as they felt the techniques might intimidate or be ‘too much of a change’ for their clients.
In 2011 we made contact with a group of professionals in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area in Wales who were keenly supportive and through their support we were able to run a project with 22 clients over an 8-week period. We delivered a challenging programme of intense creative and group experiences for the individuals, and the reaction was incredible. They responded by participating fully and wholeheartedly in the work, creating a strong group identity and bonding as small groups. The changes in deeply-rooted behavioural patterns emerged rapidly and have been creating long-term improvements in their lives. The individual testimonies to the change reflect a radical shift in their dependencies on medication, professional advice and expertise, and a broadening of their own belief systems.
The promotion of self reliance, independence and personal responsibility are the keystones to many of the new Mental Health strategies, and this project achieved all of these in an intense period of time. The professionals that supported this creative scheme have been blown away by the response from the individuals, and they are now seeking to roll the project out in the next year all over the Rhondda Cynon Taff Borough. We are now seeking to pass on the techniques and skills used so that other Mental Health professionals and artists can continue the work.
The testimonies from project participants shows how effective this work can be in helping people make positive changes in their lives:
“I found this course very useful. Six months ago I felt suicidal and down. I did not want to speak to people. I just looked myself in my bedroom. I had no confidence, thought I had nothing to live for. I did not want to be here any more. I can laugh about it now I realise how stupid I was and that I have something to live for.”
“At that time it was so hard to stay off the booze – everything was getting me down. When I was out I just thought that people were looking at me and laughing at me. I was in a bad place.”
“I got a psychiatrist and a CPN and I started going to AA meetings. I got a bit of confidence back but not a lot; I started going to counselling and it opened up things I couldn’t talk about for eighteen years. It was hard at first but then I started to trust my counsellor and told her everything.”
“I had good support of a friend – she saw straight through me and saw what I was hiding. She was the one who put me in touch with the Mental Health Foundation and they put me on courses. This helped me with my confidence and helped me to understand my problems better and to see that it was not my fault, the way I was, that I got bullied and abused. I was in a very bad place.”
“I’d seen this course advertised on the Interlink newsletter and I gave them a ring. I wasn’t sure if it would be good or bad for me but I wanted to go and it was the best decision I have made. The first day was tough. I was really quiet; the anxiety had taken over. Everyone felt the same, we are all in the same boat, everyone has their illnesses and that came out. There were a couple of people making jokes and that helped me relax. We started playing games and that made a big difference. Talking one to one to people you don’t know was a challenge but helped with my confidence. I can talk to any one now … my confidence now is back – I never thought I’d get back here.”
“I am taking on more voluntary work. I will be working with homeless people. Even a month ago I would not have thought I would be doing that, there is no way!”
“I am not good at art but I have learnt that that does not matter, you can give it a go and do what I can do. Talking in front of the whole group there is no way I would have done that two months ago, I would have had my head down.”
“I am starting to get my life back on track – I don’t even want to drink. I can go to a pub now and not even think about alcohol I never thought I would get here. I am starting to get my friends back who I have been horrible to over the years because I have been pushing them away, that was just the way I dealt with my problems, I would rather be on my own, but now I am starting to get around people more.”
“Before I came to this course I had really bad anxiety problems, I could not go on buses but now I am getting out on buses and on the train to Cardiff on my own. There is no way I would have done that.”
“My confidence is sky high at the moment even though my psychiatrist has been changing my medication and this is getting me down but doing my voluntary work and coming to this group is getting me back up. My psychiatrist noticed the changes in me and that is why he is taking me off one of my tablets and putting me onto a different one while I am feeling good.”
“I never used to make eye contact I just had my head down when I talked to people because I did not like people to look at me. I always thought they were laughing at me, it was stuck in my head and I had that for so long.”
“This course is taking you out of your comfort zone and you are doing things you did not realise you could do, but when you put your mind to it you can do it and that is what got me out of my shell and got my confidence back. Starting this course I never thought I would be singing or dancing, it has been so rewarding, it is not just the people you are having fun and you are learning at the same time and you are doing things you never thought you would. It is hard to explain how much it has helped all of us – the difference between us on the first day and us now is unbelievable.”
“The voluntary work I am doing in the shop, the bosses have seen the change in me and when you get that feedback it feels so good because you know that you are making something of your life again.”
“All the training I am going to do now I have the confidence to know that I can do it; before I would not even have applied for college.”
“I can’t thank you all of you enough and I recommend it to anyone. It is the first time I had a smile on my face.”
“I can’t even remember in how long and my family and everyone has seen the difference in me.”
“I am living on my own now which was a massive step for me and I am looking forward to the future.”
“Before I was dreading waking up in the morning.”
“I am starting to work with people who are having drug and alcohol problems and help them building their confidence.”
“I am also going to train as a counsellor in September.”