Creative arts therapies service

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An exciting new pilot project has recently been established by the Mountmellick Development Association in collaboration with a wide range of partners. Áthas is a creative arts therapies service delivered in the Laois and Offaly region to persons with a physical, intellectual, emotional, mental health and/or sensory disability. Funded until 2008, under the Enhancing Disability Services Program, the Áthas project is committed to providing a vibrant, client-driven service and creating meaningful change in community life.

Creative arts therapies (CATs) are the use of creative arts to achieve clinical goals with a range of clients who have needs in social, educational, psychological, intellectual and/or physical domains. Creative arts therapists are experts in using gentle, nonintrusive, non-verbal qualities of arts in conjunction with their insight and training in therapeutic relationships to develop programmes that help identify and address clients’ needs. Creative Arts Therapies sessions do not take the form of artteaching exercises. They focus on the process of creation and the triangular relationship between therapist, client and invoked image, rather than the end result or the acquiring of skills.

The service is provided on an outreach basis and is available to groups and individuals accordingly. Using the comprehensive network of facilities available through the participating partners and other community outlets, Áthas will develop a model of excellence that can be easily replicated throughout the country. The service has commenced by researching the range of people who can potentially benefit from creative arts therapies and a panel of qualified art, music, dance and drama therapists has been identified. Following the consultation and assessment, therapists will set up programmes with set targets for each participant to be reviewed on a regular basis and revised according to individual needs. It is envisaged that CAT therapists will complement the existing services of multidisciplinary teams and work in conjunction with other health and care professionals.

Project coordinator Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Research and Development Officer Eibhlín Clifford, and Administrator Kathleen Moore have been appointed to put the service in place and devise an action plan for the implementation of the programme. Their functions includes formative and summative evaluation which will inform the mainstreaming of the project once the pilot is completed.

A wide range of partners have been engaged in the development of this proposal and are committed to remaining as partners in the implementation of the service. These include the Health Services Executive, Laois County Council, the Disability Federation of Ireland, Laois Sports Partnership, Midland Arts (c/o Westmeath VEC), Mountmellick Development Association Social Inclusion, Midland Employment Support Agency, Laois VEC, Gandon Logistics (Rehab Group), Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary (Moore Abbey), the Irish Wheelchair Association and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. This broad representation sets the foundation for a collaborative and inclusive approach, enhancing and adding value to existing disability services.

The Áthas project confronts the challenge of bringing together people with varying disabilities, who often previously worked in isolation within their cohort group, to harness the benefits of working together and learning from each other. A unique aspect of this programme is the long-term aim of the project to foster social inclusion and integration for clients by creating paths to social networking post-therapy. It is hoped that the development and expansion of these social networks will remain long after the project is finished, thus reducing future isolation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are Creative Arts Therapies (CATs)?
Creative Arts Therapies use the creative arts to achieve clinical goals. Therapists are trained in one of the following disciplines: Art, Music, Dance or Drama. In the Creative Arts Therapy session the client may use art tools or art activities to realise their clinical goals. CATs are often referred to as expressive therapies’ as the client is encouraged to express his/herself in a non-verbal way.

What skills do I need?
No skills are needed to participate in a creative arts therapies session. Therapists do not teach skills and will not assess images produced during the session. The focus is on the creation process rather than the resulting art product.
What is the difference between arts activities like drawing and creative art therapies?

Arts activities may have a therapeutic side effect or a general positive impact on well-being. A creative arts therapist manages a referral by consulting with the client, assessing the need and developing a therapy programme that will allow the client to realise clinical goals.

Can Áthas assist someone who wants to engage in arts activities and not in therapy?
Our service is a creative arts therapies service. We do not deliver arts activities or organise arts events. However, we have compiled a useful database of contact details for tutors, teachers, individuals and groups working in the area of arts and we are happy, where possible, to point questioners in the right direction!

Who will deliver therapy programmes?
Only professional therapists can deliver therapy. All our Creative Arts Therapists are qualified to clinician level, are in professional supervision and will receive ongoing in-house Áthas training.

Where will therapy sessions take place?
Áthas services are offered on an outreach basis and normally take place in facilities belonging to the referring organisation. In the instance where no facilities are available to facilitate sessions, Áthas may (subject to availability) be able to offer an appropriate space at the Mountmellick Development Association.

Who can make a referral?
A health or care professional, someone with a knowledge of the medical history of the client can complete a referral form (with the authorisation of the client). Self-referrals can be made, but referrals forms must be accompanied by a GPs letter.

Once a referral is received by Áthas, what happens next?
Once a referral has been received, the applicant will receive a letter of acknowledgment from the project. During the next ten days, subject to the availability of a therapist and project resources, a therapist will visit (the client) to carry out a consultation.

What happens during a consultation?
During a consultation, the therapist will identify the clinical ‘need’ and may ask for information regarding social and medical circumstances. The therapist will answer any questions or concerns, explain more about the project, services and the various types of creative arts therapies.

How long does a therapy programme last?
The needs of each client will vary. As a general guideline, Áthas therapists may spend up to six-weeks assessing the client. The length of the actual therapy programmes will also vary.

Does Áthas offer any post-therapy support?
A unique part of the Áthas project is that, where appropriate, we hope to connect clients to social groups and organisations in their area following the completion of their therapy programme. Our mission is to impact positively on lives by promoting social inclusion and well-being for adult persons with a disability.

Further information regarding the project and services can be obtained by contacting Annemarie Ní Churreáin (tel: 057-8624525, email:
Annemariec@mdasiltd.ie). Current news and developments are available on our email Monthly Project Diary, available at the same email address.

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