Artwork created by teenagers at Snowsfields Adolescent unit, an acute psychiatric ward for young people aged 12-18, was on show in the Long Gallery of the Maudsley Hospital from June to September 2014.
The exhibition was curated by Dr Richard Corrigall, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and Valerie Hartland, Art Psychotherapist, both of whom work on the Snowsfields unit and co-facilitate the Art psychotherapy group on the ward.
Richard explained the motivations behind the exhibition: "it's celebrating art work that's happened at Snowsfields over the years. It's a whole spectrum of creative projects." The exhibition includes art works created in art psychotherapy sessions, and poetry, photography and artwork from projects facilitated by internal and external collaborators, including Clive Niall, teacher, Jared Louche, poet, Fritha Jenkins, artist, and work done in partnership with Dulwich Picture Gallery and Artmongers. It also involves art pieces used by the research project Children with Unusual Experiences (CUES) to help explain psychology ideas which boost wellbeing.
Richard said: "There's some amazing stuff, inspiring, moving... Some brilliant work." In addition to being a chance to show works of great talent, he hopes the exhibition will help de-stigmatise mental illness in teenagers by illustrating their stories with material that everyone can relate to.
The exhibition follows in a tradition of therapeutic artwork, as showcased earlier this year by the Adamson Collection, a collection of art works produced by patients of psychiatric wards from the 1940s to the 1980s. Adamson, the artist working with these patients, wrote in 1984 of the art studio that: "Many people who came... used painting as a means to share their anxieties, their depression, their loneliness and their fears of being abandoned... “ Adamson emphasised that these feelings are part of a normal spectrum of experience: “although these pictures may be superficially regarded as the stereotype of mental illness, they all illustrate feelings we have experienced, at one time or another, but which we have been fortunate enough to overcome.”
The value of using arts and imagery in therapeutic settings has been recognised to some degree in NICE guidelines, which recommend art therapy for schizophrenia and psychosis.
Dr Amy Hardy, Research Clinical Psychologist explained some of the research findings on the value of art and imagery: "Imagery has a long tradition of being used in the talking therapies and increasingly this use is supported by neuroscience and imaging studies which suggest that imagery can have a significant impact on emotions, behaviour and motivation, over and above verbal thought."
Hardy continued: "If you imagine a statement, like 'the sky is blue' or 'the sky is grey', it is likely to have more of an impact on your mood than just saying it to yourself. If we imagine something it activates the same areas of the brain as if we perceive it externally. Imagery should be prioritised in therapy. Therapy can help people to express themselves through imagery, which the creative therapies do really well, helping people understand the subjective meanings attached to images and if necessary transform and modify imagery to support people's wellbeing."
Hardy thinks that imagery can be very important: “Imagery plays a big role in how we make sense of the past and the present, and plan for our future."
Young people's comments on the value of art psychotherapy reflect this sense of importance. One teenager said: "I've learnt to understand how I am feeling through drawing and I found it easier to explain how I was feeling with help from the psychotherapist to connect to memories from the past and how they have shaped me now." Another spoke of art helping aid communication: "It allowed me to show things that I personally could not actually say myself."
Richard agrees: "Instinctively, for a young person to be able to tell their own story is important. It's not just about surviving illness, it's about looking after people, giving them a very sympathetic environment and helping them to understand their emotional turmoil. It’s very much a two way process and gives you a much richer understanding of that person"
Young people on Snowsfields are excited about the upcoming exhibition. "We only get to see the artwork of people who are here on the unit and some of it’s amazing.” said one. “I think it's good to get a chance to see other people's that you don't get to meet." They thought that seeing someone's artwork is sometimes a way to understand and get to know them better: "sometimes, especially if someone's quite quiet or they've got a lot going on, you get to learn a lot more about them."
Use of therapeutic artwork benefits clinicians as well as young people. Richard spoke about the personal rewards of being involved in artistic projects at the unit. “I've really appreciated the opportunity to join Valerie Hartland (art psychotherapist) for the weekly art therapy group - it has enhanced my sense of connection with the young people that we care for and I've been hugely impressed with Valerie’s approach.” Richard has been involved in designing the poster and flyers for the exhibition too, making a change to his usual role on the ward: “It’s been rewarding getting involved in some of the design side of it as well. It’s been very enjoyable. I’ve always enjoyed art and graphic design. It was very rewarding to be able to keep the young people’s art alive and to celebrate it. And it’s also a nice contrast to the other aspects of the job. Doing something different is refreshing, I’d recommend it to everybody.”
Lucy Maddox, clinical psychologist, Snowsfields Adolescent Unit
The Art of Recovery on film
Figures of Speech
Examples from the poetry, music and art project facilitated by Jared Louche, Karen O'Brien, Clive Niall and Ruth Sanderson
An example of work from a project aimed at improving the emotional resilience and well-being of schoolchildren.
The Long Gallery
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