Art therapy “can change lives” when it comes to helping some people process trauma because they might not always have the words to describe their feelings, says a Northampton-based mental health expert.
Lauren Stanton-Matthews, who is an art psychotherapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare, says she has seen first-hand how powerful art-making can be when it comes to helping people with complex mental health problems communicate their deep-rooted distress.
She said: “Art therapy is predominately for those that find communicating through words really difficult. Although there may be some talking during the session, the relationship between the client, therapist and artwork is the primary focus.
“The benefits of art therapy are endless and very much depends on what that person needs, but used in the right way, it can change lives. It’s an opportunity for self-expression and for people to explore feelings within their mind and body and symptoms that trauma may hold.
“I often ask people who can’t put their experience into words, whether they’ve ever had a dream that they can’t explain? I then guide them to use the art materials to express it if it feels safe to do so. That’s how it might work for people who are exploring trauma.”
Art therapy is just one of many different approaches that St Andrew’s staff use to connect with their patients, many of whom have been admitted due to having complex mental health conditions.
Because art plays such an important part in people’s recovery journeys at the mental health charity, Delapré Abbey wanted to include artworks by some of St Andrew’s patients in its annual Winter Light Trail.
A total of 32 pieces of art will go on display at the event which officially opens on November 24, where they will line one of the paths during the magical light walk that spans the woodland, walled garden and grounds.
One young person, within the St Andrew’s Healthcare Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), who has agreed to showcase her work is someone Lauren has worked very closely with over the last 12 months.
Lauren said: “When this young person first came to us, she found it very difficult to trust and communicate with us. But I knew she had an interest in art so I visited every day, and every day she told me to go away. I kept showing up and coming up with inventive ways to try to build the relationship.
“It was the squiggle game that eventually helped us to connect. I started leaving her squiggles and invited her to make an image from it. I returned with my own squiggles, and slowly, but surely, she started using her imagination and exploring her internal world.
“This was the start of our therapeutic relationship, and from there we started having weekly art psychotherapy sessions. The change in her since admission has been really quite significant. Self-harming incidents have reduced and she has started opening up more and exploring her personal journey. She’s really come a long way and now we are planning for discharge, which is really incredible for her.
“For most of the people we have worked with, having their artwork on display would have been unthinkable a few months ago, but now here we are about to display their pieces to members of the public. I’m so proud of the people that have produced this imagery for the display. We hope everyone who visits the Delapré Abbey Winter Light Trail understands just how important this display is to the people within our care.”
Dr Vivienne McVey, St Andrew’s Healthcare’s CEO, said: “We are immensely proud to have been asked to be part of what has fast become one of Northampton’s most talked about festive events. As a charity, our purpose is to inspire hope in all the people within our care. I think Christmas can be a hopeful time of year as many of us reflect on the last 12 months and hope for peace, good health and joy for the new year.
“We are very grateful to Delapré Abbey for giving the people within our care the opportunity to showcase their work which has given them meaning and a reason to be proud of themselves.
“We will be ensuring as many of our patients and staff can visit the event so they too get the chance to experience the magic of the lights and see the artwork exhibited.”
This year, visitors will be treated to even more enchanting light installations, soundscapes and features along the trail. At the end, guests will be met with a huge selection of local, independent food vendors, an Après Ski bar and funfair attractions.
Richard Clinton, Delapré Abbey’s CEO, said: “We want to work closely with the local community, which is why we’re always keen to include charities and schools which are Northampton-based. We’re thrilled to feature St Andrew’s Healthcare in this year’s Christmas Light Trail which is shaping up to be the biggest and best yet.
“We hope everyone who comes along this year enjoys the installations and finds the event magical and festive, which is what we always aim to deliver.”
The Winter Light Trail opens on Friday, November 24 until Sunday, December 31. Tickets can be purchased here.