‘Better than counselling” – Culture Therapy works!

We are working with Sweet Arts and the Sainsbury Institute for Art on Voyage With Me, an 18 month long creative adventure for women in Norwich funded by a People’s Health Trust grant to Sweet Arts. The Restoration Trust’s Director Laura Drysdale is the VWM Coordinator.


Voyage With Me builds on  Living With Me, a similar project run by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. Evaluation of Living With Me suggests that the model of engagement we call Culture Therapy works.

Participants’ wellbeing

  • Connect. “My confidence has grown, I’m not insecure and paranoid. Less isolation reduces all symptoms. I thought I’d go mad on my own. Now it’s just a transient thing and you get through. When I’m low I know I’m going to get better. I felt suicidal before LWM. Everyday was boring. Xxx and xxx have noticed my enthusiasm – enthusiasm as opposed to mania.”
  • Be active. “I really like going to exhibitions – the environment, the way it feels. LWM has helped me get back into that environment.”
  • Keep learning. “An incredible learning experience about myself and other people, thinking from a different perspective. How could I heal myself through a piece of art? That did happen! How did that happen?”
  • Take notice. “I loved the looking. I haven’t done that for myself or the children, my parents didn’t do that with me. It’s so nice to make the link- you don’t have to be special, normal people do it, it’s just if you have the inclination.”
  • Give. “This is bringing people back to life. It’s helped me, I want to give something back, if I can do something out there.”

What makes it work

The main thing is that everyone – participants, volunteers and staff –  keeps their eye on the task: an excellent experience of looking and making. Kindness, a warm welcome and authentic encouragement to take creative risks enable people to travel an emotionally and intellectually satisfying conclusion.

Ten top tips

  1. Careful administration. In order to take creative and personal risks, everyone in the group needs to feel secure in the reliability of the process and confident in the staff team. 
  2. Secure project funding.  Without it no one can feel properly safe.
  3. Enough and reliable timing. 18 months is enough time for people to immerse themselves in a project, allowing for changes of pace and periods of reflection, for participants to emerge from periods of ill health and for development of ideas, relationships and skills.
  4. Preparation. 6 months planning before the first session gives staff and volunteers space to build relationships and recruit people who will really enjoy the project.
  5. Risk management. Written participant referrals and risk assessments, DBS checks on staff and volunteers, specific written consents for the way participants’ are represented, up to date attendance registers and contacts.
  6. Attention to detail. Reliable transport,  dependable refreshments, a regularly updated schedule, routine contact with group members between fortnightly sessions and maintaining contact with people who for one reason or another missed sessions allow people to relax inside a firm framework.
  7. Designated space. People need a ‘home’ wherever sessions are held, and sessions work best when they are not interrupted by other people. There need to be enough tables and chairs for the whole group to be comfortable.
  8. High quality collections, materials and equipment. Great heritage, culture and art, individual sketchbooks and plentiful various materials; this is not hospital OT.
  9. Excellent knowledge and skills. Staff and volunteers with high levels of scholarship, contemporary creative practice and mental health and ‘supporting people’ knowledge, make everyone feel confident in the authority of what they learn.
  10. Follow up. Issues between people or administrative failures have to addressed quickly so they do not fester.

LWM last day 2

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