This site makes use of cookies to help improve our understanding of how you use the site.

Why the Voice of Learning Disability Matters to Arts Therapists: A view on the Creative Discoveries Conference

19 October 2016

It was essential for us, to place those who use arts therapies, our clients who have a learning disability, at the core of what we do...



As a trainee art therapist, during my clinical placement interview to join a community team working with adults with a learning disability I asked my prospective supervisor a question which has haunted me ever since. I said: “But will there be enough depth in the work?” Without flinching, she answered simply: “Yes, there will be”. Even writing out the words now, years later, I feel a tightening of my stomach, my throat dries and my heart pulses just a little louder than it should. I am ashamed of my ignorance.

During that academic year and in the years since, the clients I have worked with who have a learning disability have taught me so much about being human, about kindness and about slowing down to meet another person and share a part of their journey. My assumptions about the limited emotional life of someone with a cognitive impairment were, thankfully, shattered. Through sharing their stories with me, I have learned about the experience of living with an often ill-fitting label – that of ‘learning disability’. A definition for a diverse group of individuals with a range of problems which may bring them to therapy, but also with a range of resources and skills to aid their recovery and empowerment.

Many of the clients I worked with in art therapy explored aspects of trauma or loss, often not through words, but through art making or through play. The power of creative media enabling them to find a language to express their emotional experience in the safety of the therapy room. Together we could develop a narrative to share with the multi-disciplinary team, with their family or with their carers to help them to understand and support the client or their loved one better.


In the last twenty years there have been significant developments politically, socially and through legislation to reduce identified inequalities and discrimination across the health and social care network for people living with a learning disability. There has also been acknowledgment of the right of people with a learning disability to all aspects of life – from education, a role in society, a significant relationship and also psychological wellbeing. Research in the field of arts therapies with this client group has been slowly growing as practitioners and service users collaborate to adapt and design treatment that meets the needs of the client.

The Creative Discoveries Conference will explore service user led research and collaboration in arts therapies; set against a frame aimed to reduce health and social inequalities for those with a learning disability.

The programme brings together, for the first time, creative arts therapies practitioners who work across various media, along with those who develop and implement the regulations and policies guiding our clinical practice, and support people living with a learning disability in the UK.

It was essential for us, to place those who use arts therapies, our clients who have a learning disability, at the core of what we do, and so clients who have used arts therapies services will also share their experiences.

                  Nicki Power, Vice-Chair of BAAT Council, Coordinator of BAAT Learning Disabilities Special Interest Group, Schwartz Round Facilitator & Art Therapist.


For more information and booking for the Creative Discoveries Conference please click here

Please note: Early Bird Fee ends on the 25th of October 2016.