Could you describe Drawing and Talking in its simplest terms?
Drawing is a natural, innate process which we can all do, it enables us to express and realise in visual form our worries and preoccupations which we may often not consciously be aware of; it is a safe way to express our feelings and share our world with others. The process of drawing and talking together with a practitioner who is nonjudgmental and receptive to the emotions being expressed activates a powerful healing mechanism within us. It is the most natural thing to create art as a way of expressing and sharing our worries and joys.
Why are you so passionate about Drawing and Talking as an approach for adults?
Over the years so many young adults that I’ve worked with are afraid to put marks onto paper because they are so worried that they will be judged or mocked and that the result won’t be ‘good enough’. They ask “well what do you want me to draw?” So many young adults don’t draw and make art for fun and for the pure joy of just doing perhaps because they are used to being instructed and all too often lead; they have been part of a secondary education system that often creates only to achieve an end outcome that produces academic award. Young people, without space and encouragement can lose the art of play and self-fulfilment through imaginative play. Art and the joy of creating for the love of the process can become stifled through the teenage years by the focus on an end outcome which is measured and judged.
In contrast, older people that I’ve worked with find art to be a lifeline and a way to communicate and become lost and absorbed in a pleasurable experience. During my PhD research I worked with artists who had been diagnosed with extreme mental health difficulties who had banded together to create a collective who fought for the right to share their story via art and to have the space to tell their story as something other than a medical diagnosis and social construction. These inspirational people encouraged me to complete my research which investigated what best aids mental health recovery and survival. The results were clear and simple, the best aid was space to tell and share stories, to be listened to and to have the right to express without being judged, medicalized and demonized. Much of this storytelling was done through art, poetry and metaphor because ordinary everyday words just are not available to express and encompass the full depth of human experience and emotion.
Now working with both younger and older adults I love the way that during the first sessions they tell me that they haven’t drawn for years, maybe since they were at ‘little school’ and that they won’t be able to do it, only to watch them get their heads down, pencil in hand and draw, often nonstop in silence for 60 minutes. During this time, I watch the process and love how their faces reflect the children they used to be, concentrating and occasionally bursting out laughing or letting out a big sigh. Then suddenly they look up and say “I think I’m finished.” This process of me sitting and waiting, my focus only on this time and this person and the look on the persons face during and at the end of the process is more than enough to satisfy me that this process is something to be passionate and excited about and something that works for adults as well as children. It is without doubt as fulfilling for the practitioner as it is for the client.
What age groups do you work with?
I work with people of all ages from primary and secondary children, young people in further and higher education to adults. The power of having a space to draw and talk freely is wonderful. Whether we are struggling with stress, anxiety, bereavement, exhaustion or whether we just can’t see a way forward or are living with mental illness, we all need a time and space to ourselves, to step out of our daily life for a short time, to express ourselves creatively in a non-judgmental environment where we are the centre of focus.
What areas of emotional wellbeing do you most connect with and are passionate about supporting?
Throughout my career I have primarily worked with young people battling with debilitating mental health difficulties who are desperately trying to learn and achieve. I designed and delivered therapeutic and alternative curriculums for young people who are hospitalized which would enable these amazing young people to stay on their chosen path and to not lose hope for a future career and life. My interest has always been education, educating society about severe mental illness and trauma, looking at ways to change the ways that society represents severe mental illness and looking at ways to continue education for young people who cannot attend school because of their mental health difficulties and ultimately looking at our education system which in itself can make so many young people unwell and unhappy.
In more recent times I have become interested in women’s health, so many mothers of the children that I’ve worked with have carried blame and felt judged whilst often receiving little or no support or recognition whilst working, caring for other children, partners, parents and friends and becoming more and more exhausted. Mothers can become swallowed up and ultimately become invisible and forget who they are and what they need to have the strength carry all of those around them. In middle to later years women may find these burdens change and careers and priorities change only to suddenly be faced with someone in the mirror that they no longer recognize. At this point many women feel a loss of identity and in a society that still measures and values women by specified physical attributes, feel no value. Women in middle to later years can become invisible and unheard. This is a time that women should truly be able to enjoy their lives and celebrate who they are and what they have achieved, to find new freedoms, but it seems many of us need support to realise this. These are the women that I love to work with because I believe that drawing and talking has such a lot to offer them.
How has COVID impacted on mental wellbeing of those that you work with?
Services have been hindered and families have been coping or not under greater strain often, without support of family, friends, neighbours, church etc. Now has to be the time that we hold onto each other and reach out, we have learned how to use social media and virtual contact and we have to continue with that to reach as many people as possible that need support. Art has become a great leveller and support and we’ve all watched Grayson Perry’s Art Club, feeling part of something bigger, watching other people’s victories and losses. Drawing and Talking can be something whether done virtually, outdoors or safely indoors that can reach people and give them an opportunity to express what they maybe don’t even know they’ve been holding on to over this testing time.
Whilst using Drawing and Talking, what is your greatest success story?
My biggest success story is simple... helping people re connect with their creativity, to watch them pick a pencil up and just be for half an hour and indulge in the process, to hold a pencil again and smell it and hear the noise it makes on the paper transports us to some other place, good or bad we can work through it and survive it with someone there to hold the space and us within it. To help people to believe they can survive is the biggest reward of success.