Art as a Form of Therapy: in conversation with the UKC Therapeutic Arts Society

By Morgan Rodway-Wing

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Alarmingly, a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation shows that 75% of mental health problems are established by the age of 24, highlighting a desperate need for mental health awareness. While many traditional forms of therapy are well known, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, art therapy is less thought of when it comes to dealing with mental health issues. According to the NHS: “Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its main mode of expression and communication.”

It is refreshing, therefore, that the UKC Therapeutics Arts Society has been established because it gives students a creative outlet and a chance to get an insight into what art therapy entails. Although the society does not offer professional art therapy, they provide the tools to encourage creativity amongst students and enable them to de-stress. Various activities are on offer at the meetings including colouring, painting, origami, clay sculpting, and Hama Beads, intending to expand into tie dye, collaging, and knitting.

When asked why the society was set up, the committee answered that “after realising how stressful University can be, we wanted to make a calming environment for people to come along, de-stress and have an artistic outlet”. They acknowledged that “students go through a lot of personal struggles during University’ which made it all the more important for them to ‘provide a safe space in which [they] can encourage positivity and creativity”. The society is particularly committed to creating a safe space for everyone and give students the choice of either being in a social space or a quiet space.

Although art therapy is often faced with significant scepticism over its effectiveness, the society believes that this is because “people think they that have to be good at art to partake in it” and also that people “think that if you’re not talking then you’re not expressing yourself”. Their response to this was that “everyone releases stress in different ways and art has proven to help many people” because it provides a creative outlet rather than a more formal, spoken one. Besides, it is often remarked that art is too feminine. However, in light of the shocking statistic that men accounted for 74% of UK suicides in 2018, the society was keen to highlight that art “is not gendered” and that “the idea of art therapy can make people apprehensive but the society is a very relaxed environment”. Also, they acknowledged that a lot of men already attend the meetings and find the activities helpful, dispelling the myth that art is a gendered activity.

It is encouraging to see that, with the rise of art therapy and the establishment of the UKC Therapeutic Arts Society, creativity is becoming a crucial way of engaging with mental health issues, particularly in students.

The UKC Therapeutic Arts Society meets every Wednesday 5-7pm in KENSR1 and KENSR2 (Kennedy building).