Keith Clapson explores the impact of art and occupational therapy for mental health | Our blog

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The Maudsley Blog

Keith Clapson explores the impact of art and occupational therapy for mental health

Keith Clapson is an artist living and working in London. He began his art practice in 2017 as part of his recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at Bethlem Royal Hospital. To mark the opening of his first solo show, Touching the Surface, he has written this blog exploring the impact of art and occupational therapy on his life. 

I'm Keith, I'm 48 years old and I had been suffering with OCD, anxiety and depression at various levels for 19 years. I was admitted to the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU) at Bethlem Royal Hospital in February 2017 for four months.

Things were severe when I arrived, over the years, the avoidance, rituals, safety behaviours and compulsions had snowballed to the point where I had not been left alone by my parents or out of their eye line for almost four years. My intrusive thoughts and contamination fears had suffocated me to the point where I didn't function as a human. OCD had taken my relationship of 18 years, my home, my job, my friends and any form of social life.

The story of my stay is a whole story that can’t be told here, but I am always happy to share and talk about it. Without doubt my time at ADRU has been one of the most positive and rewarding experiences of my life. This is because of ADRU, every single member of staff and the residents I shared my time with. I feel I owe a huge amount, essentially my life, to my therapist Debby Cranston, though she would say that I did all the work, also Joel Oliver and Lisa Williams, who were integral during my stay and who have supported me hugely in my role as a volunteer back at ADRU. When I arrived my Y-BOCS score was 38. When I was discharged it was nine. After my follow ups over three months it had reduced and maintained to six.

I still have bad days, but I know how to fight harder now. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be where I am now.

I have completed the fifteen-month foundation in art & design and then the two-year diploma in ceramics, both at CityLit College. I also currently volunteer as a mentor to patients at ADRU. 

The work in this show at the Bethlem Gallery is about my journey from an inpatient at ADRU to graduating the CityLit ceramics diploma and how working in ceramics has helped maintain my recovery from OCD. There will be work included in the show from time as a patient, right through my foundation and then diploma at CityLit, and a few I've made since graduation.

To show at the Bethlem Gallery is an absolute privilege, to come full circle back to the site where my treatment started and share my experiences is an amazing opportunity. 

I also feel that this is my chance to shout about the incredible transformations that occur at this hospital and the massive significance of occupational and art therapy. 

When admitted, and once I started to develop some confidence, I joined the open art classes in the occupational therapy studio on site. This became one of my happy places and thanks to the amazing art teachers and therapists that encouraged and embraced me, letting me work on what I wanted and when I wanted to, without any pressure or judgement. This experience helped me thrive and I suspect has a big influence on my recovery. I wouldn’t have recovered without ADRU, but I now know I wouldn’t have had a future or maintained recovery without art and occupational therapy.  

Keith Clapson is presenting over a hundred ceramic sculptures at his solo show, Touching the Surface, at the Bethlem Gallery between 20 September and 18 November 2023. You can find out more here

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