‘Seeing the difference creative projects make to mental health patients and staff is exciting’

Cultural outings are boosting patients and staff in our mental health trust's older adult’s inpatient wards, writes occupational therapist Lorinda Pienaar

For the past year I have co-run a project that arranges visits to art galleries and museums for people using and working in three of our mental health trust’s older adult’s inpatient units. Seeing the difference this creative project makes to people’s recovery has been really exciting.

Through the Journeys of Appreciation programme, a three-year scheme funded by the Maudsley charity, we’ve arranged outings for service users and staff to a number of museums and galleries, including the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. After each outing we do follow-up creative and therapeutic workshops back on the wards, including life story work.

When people are facing mental health difficulties it can be hard for them to think about anything else. That’s why we really encourage service users to come on outings and to try something a bit different and a bit fun. We make sure to tailor the outings to meet people’s needs, including providing one-to-one support where people are very unwell.

One of the most striking things about the project is the difference being away from the routines of a hospital ward can make. People – both service users and staff – engage with each other differently. Everyone learns a bit about art, it is such an equaliser, and it helps service users reconnect with the world and experience things that they may have done before their illness.

The project has also been able to fund the purchase of three digital cameras for each ward. This means service users can capture and record their experiences of the visits and also take photos that are used for collages and creative work on the wards.

For staff, you see how the outings build teamwork. You feel a positive energy. People get to know each other much more than they might on ward environments. Staff really value the training in areas like life story work and how to evaluate a therapeutic visit too. Our managers have also embraced the project and have supported myself and my nursing and arts colleagues who co-run the programme.

Through the programme, we hope to show how cultural projects can make a positive difference in clinical services. We want to provide holistic care that goes beyond simply offering medical interventions. We’re currently working on various ways to develop the project in year two, including working with local artists. It is early days in our work but we’ve definitely seen a culture change on the wards already and it’s really encouraging that more and more people want to be part of this.

Lorinda Pienaar is an occupational therapist clinical specialist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s older adult’s mental health services. She co-runs the Journeys of Appreciation programme with Helen Shearn and Geoff Ward. 


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