Last year my colleague Helen and I were lucky enough to be invited to assist in facilitating creative activities with the Friendship Group at Llandough Hospital, which we did on a monthly basis for one year. Helen works as an artist running creative groups in the community and I work as a creative therapist.
Neither of us were sure what to expect, but sitting in on the group at the outset of our journey, we were immediately struck by the community feeling and shared enjoyment of both staff and participants, which shone out in the atmosphere created by the group. We were made to feel welcome and at ease and our sharing with the Friendship Group began. At the end of the year I decided to look back at some key moments during our time there.
We had decided to explore a theme of the seasons and changes in the yearly cycle of life as part of our monthly activities. I recall the flow of the seasons changing and unfolding and the sharing of friendship remaining constant in the group, like the flame of a nourishing candle. Within this atmosphere of connection, we encouraged acceptance of self and others in a process of an ebb and flow of emotions, accepting both happiness and challenges.
In this process of sharing we assisted the group in collage making, choosing images they liked and appreciated associated with the seasons, and finding images which had particular emotional relevance for individuals. In the process of this group collage making there was a coming together of both making individual decisions as well as a collective appreciation of seeing images brought together in a communal visual display and celebration. We explored both individuality and relationship through selecting visual images and noticing relationship between the images and feelings.
I recall in the warmth of early summer going outside with the group into the garden adjoining our community room. Everyone walked slowly at their own pace, using the senses to be present and notice what caught our attention in the garden, while also pointing things out to each other. We noticed different senses – smells, textures, colours, shapes, taking time with the pleasures and curiosity of detail in the everyday, while showing things to each other. The focus on what caught individual attention with a sharing in the wider group gave a sense of togetherness and connection out in the open air.
At the start of some sessions we suggested an initial activity to bring a focus to everyone acknowledging each other. We introduced a textural ball which could be moulded into different shapes and which had different curiosity objects at the centre. In turn group members responded to the texture of the ball and what was inside, while sharing anything they wanted to about their feelings about that month and then choose someone else to pass the ball on to. If someone didn’t want to share there was no pressure, but an emphasis of acceptance of going with whatever they wanted to do.
During these activities we always needed to be spontaneous and adaptive in terms of changing our plans according to responses of the group and amount of time spent on a particular activity and planning the rest of the session accordingly. For example, there were some activities which we thought would take much longer than was the case, and some activities which the group became very engaged with and took longer than anticipated. We spent more time working with the senses, and with craft making playful activities as the group seemed to respond so well to these, whereas activities which needed more cognitive reflection we decided to do less of.
As our time with the Friendship Group developed, I came to realise more and more the importance of the group friendship involving the sharing and accepting of both happiness and difficulties. This meant acknowledging together with the group feelings involving tears, fear and vulnerability, as well as laughter and celebration. Sometimes a theme we presented had particular resonances of both happy and sad associations. For example, the theme of holidays and time away with family exploring the seaside and the countryside was explored through visual images and imagination. This brought both joy of recovered happy memories and sadness about places not been to or not likely to go to again.
As well as working with tactile objects and images, the group used words to describe feelings and associations. In our final session we created a group poem about springtime. Through choice of words we shared things enjoyed in springtime, and a spoken picture was created which flowed into a rhythm connecting us as a group with sound, words, images and feelings. It was at this point that one participant turned to me and said ‘We are all in this together, there is sadness and suffering in everyone’s life, we should accept this and try not to stress about anything as we are all in it together’.
I totally agreed with him and felt that our time with the Friendship Group had enriched this sense of the importance of togetherness.
& Helen Turnbull
On behalf of the Friendship Group I would like to take this opportunity to thank Es and Helen for their contribution to our cognitive stimulation therapy sessions over the last year. We have learned a lot from them, about what works best for our group and things to focus less on. An invaluable lesson for me personally is to focus CST sessions more on multisensory approaches and reduce tasks which require great cognitive effort and sustained attention, so that people with more impairments can benefit equally to those members with better preserved memory and language.
Some of Es & Helen's work is pictured below.