3 MIN READ | Mental Health

Why Not Have Creative Therapies as First Line of Treatment

Carl Dutton

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Carl Dutton, (2019, December 11). Why Not Have Creative Therapies as First Line of Treatment. Psychreg on Mental Health. https://www.psychreg.org/creative-therapies-treatment/
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Often I am asked to see young people to be creative with or to do some form of creative or physical-based intervention. I have to say also many times it has felt like it’s the last chance salon because everything else has failed/not worked or young person feels unable to engage.

When I ask the enquirer why now, they might say something like the young person needs a fresh approach or that were at a loss as too what to do and that a creative approach might work/help.

I don’t blame them for the real emphasis on treatments seems to be guided by a rather limited view on being human. Mental health problems need to be solved by problem solving types of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy, manualised parent programmes, and medication to relieve and stabilise mood or anxiety just to name a few.

Yet I think we require a shift in our thinking that being creative is an intrinsic part of who we are – now I don’t mean being the next Picasso or Banksy, the next Pavarotti or Ed Sheeran, but I do mean that we all have the ability within us to look at, explore, discover, and be playful that will enhance and develop our way of seeing and managing a particular issue related to our mental health and well being.

In my work over the last 30 odd years in mental health I have always been involved in and with creative approaches to maintaining and enhancing well-being. This has included developing specific types of group or individual sessions that include psychodrama, art, creative reading/writing, horticulture, forest school, music, and sport.

Einstein, a man from the outside who looks like he was a hard facts type of person, said that: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ which I have taken to mean that to get beyond the hard facts you have to think beyond the constraints of the system – namely the laws of physics at the time. He saw something outside of those parameters which creative therapies can offer the client: to see the issue outside of the usual.

In these times of therapy being prescribed and formalised into packages it seems that a creative approach is needed that allows the person to utilise all of themselves and their potential which may have been restricted for many reasons to not have a voice, be able to move as freely as they would like, create a piece of music or dance.

I, for one, feel we should in fact offer creative ways of therapy as first line intervention rather than something as an afterthought, a last chance option, or a hit-and-hope approach. Creative therapies have good evidence that they work. Just ask yourself what would your own life be like if you did not have music, art, dance, books, and drama.

We need it to feel alive  and feel connected to express ourselves and produce something that shows something of ourselves. So it seems sensible to think that to create will be life enhancing and makes us feel valued and a sense of vitality.

Previously I have written about how whittling has been a way for me to create and express myself and produce small wooden objects – how good they are is not that important what is more important is the creative process, the connections in the room with others but also with the material used, and the enjoyment of doing.

I also have been involved in using psychodrama in action and it’s theory to help expand my roles in life and to see the impact of my own on others as well as there’s on me.

Using the technique of role reversal in a psychodrama has been one of the most important creative ways of exploring personal and societal dilemmas which I use to this day in work be it a therapy session or training group or forest school.

I do think that creative therapies are often placed in the last resort category when in fact if we want to encourage independent creative thinking and feeling beings that it should in fact be thought as first port of call.

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Image credit: Freepik


Carl Dutton is a psychodrama psychotherapist working in the NHS in FRESH CAMHS at Alderhey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. 

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