The benefits of art therapy in Social care

Author – Charlotte Flake
As appeared in

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy used to encourage self-expression through creativity. Generally, it can help improve emotional well-being and overall quality of life. However, numerous studies have found that there are also many, and often specific, benefits for people suffering from a developmental disability, dementia or mental health issue.

In the social care sector, where many service users are in their senior years and/or living with dementia or mental health conditions, art therapy is being increasingly introduced as a regular activity.

The benefits of art therapy
There are numerous published studies which have found that the cathartic and interactive nature of art therapy offers many benefits, both physical and psychological, including:

  • Promoting self-awareness
  • Facilitating intellectual stimulation
  • Improving cognitive skills and coordination
  • Reducing anxiety and stress

Art therapy encompasses a range of activities including music, dance, literature and visual arts; all of which provide a unique means of expression and are all great to do in groups, one-to-one or with visiting family members. This is particularly useful for those who struggle to communicate with words or through conversation.

We’ve heard of a number of ways our care providers are introducing art therapy into their services and activity schedules.

Easterlea Rest Home
At Easterlea Rest Home in Hampshire, they have weekly visits from Kym, an arts and crafts entertainer. These activities provide residents with stimulus and reminiscence as well as encouraging social interaction and physical activity.

Easterlea’s Manager, Carol, said: “One particular resident, who is 102 and has dementia, used to be a local artist and some of her paintings are hung in the home. While she needs encouragement to join in, she responds well and creates some lovely artwork.

“Kym is great and adapts the sessions to the residents and relates them to what is going on in the calendar, or weather! She loves to see everyone’s individual skills shine through and brings everything together so that the residents can say they made something together.”

For Easter, the residents have been painting and drawing some colourful displays, which you can see below. Easterlea will also be getting some duck eggs which will hatch in the home for the residents to look after for a few days.

Langton Hall Residential Home
Based in Pembrokeshire, art therapy is something Langton Hall is just starting to introduce. The 24-bed residential care home for the elderly is taking part in Age Cymru’s cARTrefu project.

The four-year programme, run by Gwanwyn, aims to improve access to quality art experiences for older people. Currently, 12 professional artists across the fields of performing arts, visual arts, words and music are delivering 12-week residencies throughout care homes in Wales.

At Langton Hall, professional opera singer, Ilar Rees-Davies, visits weekly to perform and sing with the residents. Manager, Kellie, said: “She is involving the residents by asking them to tell her all of the old sayings their parents used to tell them and putting them together in arias. The residents taking part are loving the sessions and music is really bringing back memories for them.”

Jewish Care
Jewish Care is the largest health and social care charity for the UK’s Jewish community and provides culturally-sensitive social care for older people across London and the South East. One of the ways they touch the lives of the 10,000 people they support every week is through their Creative Arts programme.

They have a whole team dedicated to running a weekly and annual calendar of varied activities which include arts, photography, drama and music. The organisation works in partnership with leading participatory arts practitioners as well as the local community to develop intergenerational projects which give old and young the opportunity to share and connect with one another.

Caroline D’Souza, Creative Arts Programme Manager explains: “We work hard to ensure that individuals will experience meaningful everyday activities and be stimulated through creative arts-based programmes, helping individuals to reconnect with themselves and others in their local communities.”

The organisation has run a series of drama and music workshops from January to March across four Jewish Care homes, where residents have had the opportunity to work with participatory arts and music practitioners, including reminiscence activities with music and drama.

Chloe Harbour, who works as a story maker and improviser has been running the workshop for people living with dementia. The residents got very involved in the storytelling, reminiscing times gone by when they dressed up to go to weddings or dance halls, enjoying the music as well as the physical stimulation of some gentle exercise with a giant ball and the ribbon sticks.

It is the Jewish in Jewish Care that shapes their values and the way they work and sets the organisation apart from other care providers. In preparation for the upcoming festival of Passover, it is customary to remember the story of the Exodus at a traditional meal, the Seder at the start of the festival. Children as young as 3 and older members of Jewish Care’s community, some of whom are over 100 years old, have been getting together to hold mock Seders in our residential homes and community centres.

Caroline added: “It’s the traditions around Jewish festivals that are often so deep-rooted within many of us that they last beyond many other memories. And with over 80% of our care home residents living with dementia, it’s important to encourage them to access these memories by stimulating the senses.”


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