Are we all creative?

Last Wednesday (4th Sept) we held our first SEE Session featuring Jane Bentley and a host of special guests, which was a roaring success!

Jane expertly led us in discussion, activities and interactions which were designed to get us thinking about the social power of music. Under her effective facilitation, Jane had a group of 70 diverse individuals from across education, social services and health (the majority of whom had never met before) making music and song in under an hour!

It’s not that I didn’t think it was possible. In fact, it was precisely what I’d hoped for! But the speed and ease at which a room full of professionals opened up, made a contribution and (I’d argue) created something beautiful is amazing to me. But perhaps that is the power of music? Making you realise things you didn’t know about yourself, and achieve things that you didn’t think would be wholly possible?

As part of the day we asked people what ‘creativity’ meant to them. Here are a few of their responses:

“it lets people have fun, be a part of a group or express themselves as an individual. It can be a gateway to the soul”

“creativity means the release of self”

“creativity means doing something new and makes you feel a range of emotions”

I like these comments, but a colleague of mine also pointed out the following definition to me:

Creativity is: “a dynamic process that often involves making new connections, crossing disciplines and using metaphors and analogies. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself”

These are all useful to me because I don’t draw (although, I’m reliably told that EVERYONE can draw), I don’t dance (I can just about muster a shuffle) and although I do love singing, I believe myself to be mostly out of tune. But underneath it all, I do think I am creative. I have ideas all the time, I like to try new things and connect things together in different ways. I imagine that this is similar to lots of people out there.

I suppose what this highlights is an underpinning belief that we are all creative in some way. Creativity doesn’t always have to take the form of structured activities, it can be a softer intrinsic part of professional practice, or how you generally are at work.

IRISS is not alone in thinking this… Amongst, others, see:

We know that tapping into our own (and others’) creativity can change lives. Recent research has shown that there are physical, psychological and social benefits of using creative pursuits (such as the arts) to better support people who use services (See: Similarly, we know that creativity can act as a leveler, a universal language that enables connections between things, experiences and people.

So, how can we harness this capacity to create – not only for problem solving and ideas, but for the underpinning well-being that creativity unlocks?

Some other comments from the day include:

“Jane listened and used peoples comments to enable her to share from a wealth of knowledge in a simple and easy to understand way. Great communication and tutor”

“this workshop has been one of the most inspirational I have been on. So exciting and offers so much potential!”

“good opportunity to find out about other projects within discussion, provides evidence to take back to management with the hope they’ll invest more faith in the power of music”

If you’d like to contact Jane, please do so on



The arts: creating new connections – with yourself and others

It is not uncommon for people to turn to the arts as a form of release from the day to day stresses of life. What’s the relevance of this for the social services?  That’s what we at IRISS are exploring.

For example, a recent Guardian article, “Music therapy helps children who have witnessed domestic violence”  highlighted research from a Housing Association in England into the use of a therapeutic music studio for young children who have witnessed and experienced domestic abuse. The article states, “not only have we found that music instils a sense of achievement and confidence, but it boosts children’s key skills in communication, listening and technology”. The Housing Association also creatively supports the women attending the refuge; setting up a choir, for example, was particularly effective in building self esteem and confidence.

IRISS is similarly interested in the power of music to connect us with our own experiences, as well as connecting us with those around us. So much so, that we’ve designed an event (Tuning in: the social power of music) to bring social services practitioners and artists together to explore these issues. The event is open for bookings and will be run by Jane Bently (whose current work involves developing music in mental health, from secure units to community settings) and will cover the following:

  • THEORY: the foundations of our innate musical potential and how it engages both social and communicative development

  • PRACTICE: case studies of exemplary music projects in mental health, dementia care and social services

  • RESEARCH: examining the broader evidence base

  • DEVELOPMENT: practical group work that can be adapted for a variety of health and social care settings – and used by ‘non-musicians’!

  • DISCUSSION: where do we go from here?

So, sign up to come along and hear about how music can be a potent tool for developing both bonding and bridging social capital, particularly for those whom communication and social engagement can be challenging.

But music is just one art form that can help people. Health research has shown that creative interventions for people who have suffered physical or emotional trauma can reduce the psychological impact of that and aid healing. A while back, Trevor Hopkins informed me of a study (over three decades of research) by Dr James Pennebaker on creative writing and immune response/healing (here is a link to a BBC Radio 4 programme that features this work: )

The main gist of the intervention is that people with various illnesses were given the task of creatively/expressively and writing down their feelings for four consecutive days. The individuals were given free reign to write about whatever they wanted – related or unrelated to their condition. The results of the research found that writing about painful experiences could enhance immune response, reduce recovery times, and promote physical, psychological, and social well-being.

Interestingly, the research highlighted that it wasn’t the act of documenting experiences that was the therapeutic element (in fact, often people didn’t write about themselves at all!), but it was the expression in a creative form that helped the healing process. Dr Pennebaker says, “People who are able to construct a story, to build some kind of narrative over the course of their writing seem to benefit more than those who don’t.”

These are just two examples out of countless creative endeavors that are relevant to social services. To understand better what is happening in Scotland we have set up a survey to find out from you how you are using the arts and creative interventions to support people better – if you haven’t completed it already, there is still time: