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Flexing the frame: therapist experiences of museum-based group art psychotherapy for adults with complex mental health difficulties

17 January 2019

This article by Ali Coles, Fiona Harrison & Saira Todd, explores the issues involved in running art therapy groups for people with long term mental health difficulties in museums instead of NHS outpatient centres...

This article is written from the perspective of three art psychotherapists who examine their own experience of running these types of groups. The research gives insights into the opportunities and challenges of working in this way.

We started by agreeing on three specific questions: what significance might the museum objects hold for the service users, how might physically moving between a private art-making room and the public space of the museum impact on the service users, and what are the potential issues involved in delivering art psychotherapy in a public building rather than the more private space of an NHS building?

For each of the three areas we met twice. At the first session we discussed our experience of running the museum-based groups in relation to that area, and at the second we used artmaking to expand our discussion. We recorded and transcribed our discussions and analysed the transcripts. The analysis produced several themes, which we then related to existing psychotherapeutic theory. We used a simple research process that helped us to think about what we do as art psychotherapists and why - a process which other art psychotherapists could use for their own research.

We conclude that there are different issues and opportunities when working in museums compared with working in NHS buildings. The work challenges traditional expectations of how art psychotherapy is carried out and requires creativity and flexibility on the part of the therapist. We found that using museums for art psychotherapy was an interesting and valuable extension to our work. Other art psychotherapists who wish to run groups in museums may find our insights useful. 

This article by Ali Coles, Fiona Harrison & Saira Todd has been published online here

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