In this new series, The Arts in Palliative Care, we look at how the arts in palliative care settings can be a powerful and effective way of addressing the practical, psychological, social and spiritual issues that face people at the end of their lives.
Avril Jackson, Information Officer/Editor, European Association for Palliative Care Social Media Team, gives her impressions of the annual conference organised by the Arts Team at St Christopher’s Hospice in south-east London, UK.
“The Arts get to the crevices of the soul in ways that words can’t.” (Julia Samuel, Psychotherapist, on opening the conference.)
With no specific training about the Arts in Palliative Care, but wanting to prepare for this current series on the blog, I attended St Christopher’s arts conference. This annual event has become a meeting space for art and music therapists, psychotherapists, dramatherapists, community artists, storytellers and writers involved in palliative and end-of-life care.
By the end of the day, I had begun to understand a more creative way of facing death – how the Arts can be used to heal when someone is broken or grieving, to make sense of and provide comfort at the end of life and in bereavement. Grouped under Resilience, Resistance, Revolution and Reflection, presentations, interactive workshops and posters revealed how to unlock channels of blocked communication and encourage self-expression.
Francis, a patient, explained how, since becoming ill, he had not played his guitar – a huge part of his life for years. But through a collaborative music project between St Christopher’s and students of the Brit School of Performing Arts Francis took up his music again and performed with one of the students. He said:
“Just the participation involves coming out of yourself … putting yourself into some form of expression and creativity … it helps you understand where you are and where you are going.”
Ray Travasso, a music therapist at East Anglia Children’s Hospice, explained how music therapy could be just as powerful and healing to parents as to the children. ‘Music Therapy and Cake’ is the title of a group music therapy session he runs for young children and their families, followed by all-important social time for parents. Music therapy is also part of bereavement support with a hospice community choir that welcomes bereaved mothers as well as non-bereaved people. Led by the mothers themselves, the choir is building their self-confidence and greater resilience.
In her dramatherapy workshop, Mary Smail gave us a taste of facing uncertainty as she creatively combined storytelling, movement and props. I enjoyed the practical involvement and how it felt to be a part of the story. Asked how to base your choice of story, Mary emphasised the need always to be led by the conversation with the patient and only promote stories that you believe in.
Maria Mota, an art therapist at St Christopher’s, described the revolutionary mural-making project displayed on the hospice walls. Inspired by a visit to the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition about Art in the Russian Revolution, patients created their own propaganda posters using different media such as linocuts and collage.
Brexit, cuts in expenditure for health and social care, immigration, global warming and President Trump were frequently referenced. As patients moved between groups there was refreshing and positive comment, occasional clashes and, importantly, “people expressed things they felt strongly about”.
Just a glimpse of three of the many inspiring presentations that helped me to understand what it means to face death creatively. What I loved most was the unfailing emphasis on the patient’s story: whether it was reconnecting patients with former skills and interests, with themselves, or with their families.
Look out next week when Alex Ioannou from St Christopher’s, one of the speakers at the conference, will be writing about dramatherapy in palliative care.
- Look out for the 2018 conference led by the Arts Team. Check St Christopher’s website for further information on education and training events.
- Read more post in the Arts and Palliative Care series on the EAPC Blog.