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Play It Through

Art in Mental Health

There was an art exhibit called Day 1 at this years dramatherapy conference by Amit Sharma which had been exhibited as part of Mental Health Awareness Week (May) with Shadow Road and OSO Arts Centre.

The piece explored a way to use art within supervision within the field of mental health.

I was particularly drawn to the wire sculpture. The head was fractured by the wall behind which the torso was attached to creating a brokenness with the impression of the wool spilling out or leaking away. The torso spoke to me of the illusion of sturdiness and order with everything in lines, rows and repeating patterns. Toward the hips the wire frame stops and the wool tumbles onto the floor, un-contained, unstructured and threatening to trip up anyone on their way to the near by seat.

It reminded me of a theatre show I saw a few years ago at the Vault Festival which explored psychosis – the patient was mad and the doctor was sane; except is the line really so precise? My dramatherapy tutor Pete had two mantras which he wanted us all to know and remember:

  • Context is everything
  • Everything exists on a spectrum.

Our medical model of understanding mental health asks “what is wrong with you” but much research suggests that a more pertinent question in many cases might be “what happened to you” – understanding what caused the dis- ease rather than what tick boxes meet which condition criteria within the DSM5.

The painting behind on the wall reminds me of a child I saw at the park yesterday. “Come on” said his father, “we can go there later, we have to leave now”. The child threw his head back, closed his eyes, and sobbed. While still in that position he began to walk forward as if being pulled by a rope tied to his heart. He could not see where he was going, he had no choice about where he was going, he was not content with where he was going.

Often in mental health it can seem so out of control – the patient may not understand what is happening to them, they may feel scared, defenceless, cautious, helpless… once you have a label put on you can you then choose to take it off again? If there is a set treatment for that condition can you politely decline?

Or for the professionals- can you keep the patients moving in and out without interrupting the flow and running late? If you do succeed in that, are you making a meaningful difference and helping your patients? Can you stay on top of all the paperwork, meetings and admin required for a professional in that role? Does anyone listen to your voice if what you are saying does not exactly match the clinical control trials and NICE guidelines?

I wonder what you see when you look at these pieces?

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