November 28 2011

‘The Art of Collaboration’ Blog

Art of Psychiatry Conference

by Tracy Evans, Drama Development Worker

So I am sitting on the train back to Bridgend from London, having spent a long day at a conference which explored how patients in psychiatric settings use creative media (arts) in their recovery journey, as well as considering how the media treat the issue of mental disorder.

My overwhelming feeling …. is that I am not very overwhelmed. The whole day (seven and a half hours) was spent in one lecture theatre with presenters presenting at us (save for a choir who got us to sing and a theatre director who required our participation). There were no workshops, no breakout sessions – those special conference spaces where new ideas and collaborations really can take place.

There were a number of presentations about how television and theatre represent mental health with ‘integrity’ and ‘authenticity’, but no mention of the theatre work of artists with psychiatric illnesses such as Sarah Kane (although reference to a number of visual artists was made), or no sustained enquiry into whether the creative media should be presenting or re-presenting psychiatric patients and their issues. Which meant that the entire political arena of performance work was not engaged with.

I understand the need for the organisers to keep a tight ship – to meet their aims and objectives, but it felt that perhaps these objectives were not as broad as they might have been, and might have benefitted from input from more artists and psychiatric patients, as well as psychiatrists. Maybe that will come next?

As is often the case at conferences, the most useful insights came out of those short meetings you have with people during coffee breaks and over the lovely lunch provided. Discussions around what are the similarities and differences between artists and psychiatrists? What do we have in common? What vocabularies can we use to work together in these fields? What can the arts provide for patients with psychiatric illnesses that is not possible in traditional psychiatric methods? Are we brave enough to enter these unchartered grounds?

One thing is for sure, we need the deepest sort of trust, integrity and collaboration between medical professionals, artists and patients if this is to be meaningful and efficacious.