Blog: volunteering with Creative Directions

Junior Doctor Nikoletta spent 5 weeks volunteering in Creative Directions, our creative workshops for adults experiencing mental health difficulties. Below she discusses her experiences with the group. 

When I first read about Creative Directions I found really interesting how the artistic mediation could be an alternative way of coping with mental health difficulties. I realised the importance of a supportive space that was based on trust and acceptance.

The dynamic of the group enables the participants to explore their individual and collective role. There is a spectrum of different ages and abilities, and the coordinator of the group plays an important role for the coherence of the group and the engagement of each participant, respecting their individual pace and desire. Even if it is not a therapeutic group, Creative Directions can act in a therapeutic way, that is to say that social interaction can be deeply therapeutic. What is also inspiring is the opportunities that arise out of the restricted in time and in place Wednesday group. The group had already started to socialise in other structures, organising days out in theatres etc.

Most participants have faced difficult experiences and attending a group where they can act as individuals and not just as diagnosed patients can enable a more meaningful integration with themselves and within the community. Some participants search for contact, they can share interesting stories and feelings when an authentic interest and positive attitude is created. For some it takes more time or a different understanding and approach to soften the defenses and build a trustful communication with them. The nature of the group – the fact that most of the participants choose to join or continue with the group as their own decision, even if it has been proposed by health professionals – is important, as instead of passive obligation their attending gives them a sense of self-determination which in turn can improve their personal wellness.

Creative Directions provides an opportunity to get in touch with other people that may have experienced similar difficulties, and the chance to discuss them in a place where they can feel secure and not judged. This strengthens the relationships between them, leading to a sense of belonging.

In the afternoon sessions, which are led by an artist, I found it inspiring how participants could be shown where to start from and then unfold their own creative abilities. For example when they worked with clay over a number of weeks, they transformed masses of clay into expressive objects such as animals and faces. They enjoyed the present moment and the continuity of a specific project, staying focused and engaging with purposeful activity.

I strongly believe that art can contribute in developing and maintaining good mental health. Human beings have always tried to understand themselves and the world they live in. Sometimes it seems very difficult to express internal reflections and sensations with the “right” words. Creativity can act as a transitional space, as a bridge between the personal world and the external world. Expression through art can be therapeutic and less frightening (indirect confrontations with the internalised traumas for example) and can allow the individuals to make sense of themselves and to share their truth and their stories in a more playful space.

From my both personal and professional experience as a junior doctor, I was intrigued to witness the transformative power that creativity hides and how helpful it can be in achieving and maintaining an integrated sense of self. I believe that health professionals should become more aware of this potential reality and should start to engage their patients with more holistic approaches.